Court jails 23 over police killings in raid on protesters

The Appeals Criminal Court in the city of Salé, near the capital Rabat, handed down the sentences ranging from two years to life in imprisonment to the defendants

A protester waves a flag of the Amazigh, Morocco's Berber community, during a demonstration in downtown Rabat on June 11, 2017

The Appeals Criminal Court in the city of Salé, near the capital Rabat, handed down the sentences ranging from two years to life in imprisonment to the defendants, the official Moroccan news agency MAP reported.

Eight among the defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment, Moroccan news portal Hespress said.

The rulings could be appealed.

The case dates back to November 2010 when clashes erupted between anti-government protesters and Moroccan police, who were trying to clear a camp the demonstrators had set up in the desert near the southern city of Laayoune, demanding social justice.

At the time, authorities accused some of the protesters of being separatists and backing the Polisario Front independence movement in Western Sahara, a disputed territory mostly controlled by Morocco.

In 2013, a military court heard the case and later gave varying jail terms to the accused amid an outcry from rights groups.

In December 2016, the case was handed over to the Appeals Criminal Court.

The row over Western Sahara began in 1975 with Morocco’s takeover of the region after Spain’s withdrawal.

The Polisario Front, which is backed by Morocco’s regional rival Algeria, demands a referendum for mineral-rich Western Sahara’s self-determination.

Morocco has refused the demand.

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