Academic on hunger strike over travel ban, harassment

In an apparent violation of academic and other freedoms, Morocco’s government has allegedly prevented historian Maati Monjib from travelling to take part in conferences in Europe. Now the academic, human rights activist and writer is struggling for his life, more than two weeks into a hunger strike protesting against the government’s treatment of him.

Monjib went on a hunger strike at the headquarters of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights in the capital Rabat on 6 October, also claiming harassment of him by the government. He was admitted to hospital on 13 October.

On 20 October the secretariat of the National Committee to Support Maati Monjib issued a statement reporting a rapid and alarming deterioration in his health after 14 days of hunger strike, and called for a show of solidarity with Monjib on 21 October in front of parliament.

Monjib is an academic in the Institute of African Studies at Mohamed V University in Rabat and a member of the scientific committee of the Senegal-based Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa or CODESRIA.

He was a founding member of the support council of the 20 February Movement, which organised protests in Morocco at the beginning of the Arab Spring, and president of Freedom Now, an association that works to defend freedom of expression and journalism in Morocco.

Series of provocations

The travel ban imposed on Monjib is allegedly only one in a series of provocations and police harassments to which the academic has been subjected. For example on 31 August, on his return from Montpellier in France, he was held at Mohamed V Airport in Casablanca.

On 19 September, Morocco’s Interior Ministry issued a communiqué stating that Monjib was not being denied the right to leave the country. Rather, he was detained because of an investigation into suspected financial wrongdoing at the Ibn Rochd Center for Studies and Communication in Rabat, of which Monjib is the founder and director.

However, the committee on academic freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America, or MESA, said in a 13 October letter to Moroccan King Mohamed VI and Prime Minister Abdel-Ilah Benkirane that the professor had been told by border police he was “wanted for undermining the security of the state”.

He had been “prevented from travelling abroad and pursuing fully his professional activities and scholarship”.

On 14 September, said MESA, just before an attempt to travel, Monjib had been summoned by the National Brigade of the Judicial Police, and was among other things accused of “destabilising citizens’ allegiance to institutions".

“This accusation and the threats, insinuations and ongoing harassment to which Professor Monjib has been subjected – including the spread of calumnious allegations and ad hominem attacks by certain media outlets, meant to destroy his reputation, suggest to us that his current mistreatment by government authorities relates to his work as a prominent and tireless civil society activist, especially in his capacity as the elected head of ‘Freedom Now’,” the MESA letter said.

International outcry

Article 4 of the 1990 Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility clearly states:

“Every African intellectual shall enjoy freedom of movement within his or her country and freedom to travel outside and re-enter the country without hindrance or harassment. No administrative or any other action shall directly or indirectly restrict this freedom on account of a person's intellectual opinions, beliefs or activity.”

Several international institutions with a core mandate to promote academic and intellectual freedom have protested against the travel restrictions on and harassment of Monjib, including CODESRIA, MESA and Freedom Now.

There are petitions in support of Monjib signed by prominent Moroccan and foreign academics. See here and here.

CODESRIA has expressed solidarity with its prominent member, is deeply concerned about Monjib’s health and has requested an immediate cessation of the “unacceptable harassment” suffered by him.

It also says: “CODESRIA is concerned about the recurrence of abuses perpetrated against members of the community of researchers and lecturers on the continent, which contributes to a climate of persecution that counters a serene and productive academic and social life.”