Ms. Ziani’s joy at her release was quickly tempered by the thought of so many fellow protesters still in prison.
“I felt so much happiness, I thought that the Rif was going to go back to normal,” she said in a recent interview.
But she added: “I felt so sad that the boys weren’t released. One of the reasons we had been protesting all these months was because we wanted all our brothers who were unjustly arrested to walk free.”
When the Arab Spring protests toppled leaders in Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, Moroccans also took to the streets. In response, the king pushed for constitutional reforms and ceded some power to the Parliament. The country also enshrined Tamazight, the local Berber tongue, as an official state language in its Constitution.
As a result of those relatively modest changes, Morocco had been mostly stable, even while uprising convulsed many countries in the region. But the death of the fishmonger, Mouhcine Fikri, jarred the status quo.
Mr. Fikri, 31, was crushed in a garbage compactor as he tried to retrieve his catch, which was confiscated by the police because it contained swordfish that was caught illegally out of season. His death galvanized a public deeply resentful of officials who are seen as heartless, corrupt and ruling over a stagnant economy.
The Moroccan government came down hard on the protesters, arresting more than 200, and Human Rights Watch said it had received 43 complaints of torture by the police.
“This is a serious deterioration of the human rights climate in Morocco,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, the Morocco representative for Human Rights Watch. “Episodic cases of police abuse and a crackdown on peaceful protests have been documented in the recent past, but not in such a large scale in many years.”
Al Hoceima, the cultural capital of the Rif, has long had tense relations with the monarchy. The Berber population in the region waged war against Spain, then Morocco’s colonial ruler, in the 1920s, defeating the Spanish Army and declaring the Rif Republic, which lasted from 1923 to 1926.
“The republic never received international recognition,” said Hisham Aidi, a lecturer at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who recently published an autobiographical essay on cultural memory in northern Morocco. “Spanish and French forces would crush the fledgling state in 1926.”
But the rise and fall of the Rif Republic, the only Berber state in modern history, are “seared in the region’s memory,” Mr. Aidi said.
A few years after Morocco gained its independence from France in 1956, Crown Prince Hassan — the current monarch’s father, who would become King Hassan II in 1961 — violently crushed a rebellion in the Rif.
For decades after that, the central government ignored the region, and tens of thousands of mostly young people left to pursue a better life in Europe and elsewhere.
After succeeding his father in 1999, King Mohammed introduced a policy of reconciliation with the Rif, pushing for economic development projects, including tourism, to try to lift the region out of poverty.
But that plan never went far, and the eastern part of the Rif has remained economically marginalized, with no industry or universities and an economy that relies heavily on remittances from abroad and cannabis cultivation, Mr. Aidi said. Moroccan officials could address those needs better, he said, rather than resorting to repressive tactics.
“The Moroccan regime’s response has been disproportionate,” he said. “Clamping down on peaceful protesters, imprisoning young bloggers and artists, will only harden Riffian nationalism.”
The Moroccan Interior Ministry declined to comment about the accusations of torture and repression of peaceful protesters, and the government’s spokesman did not return requests for comment.
During his speech in July, King Mohammed blamed political parties for the Rif unrest, but he did not offer specific solutions to the grievances of the area’s residents.
“If the king of Morocco is not convinced by the way political activity is conducted, and if he does not trust a number of politicians, what are the citizens left with?” he said.
In July, the police used tear gas to disperse a protest in Al Hoceima, injuring a demonstrator who fell into a coma and later died.
Currently, police blockades surround the city and protests are banned. Police trucks and uniformed officers have taken the place of the carousels, concerts and street entertainments that typically fill Moroccan cities during the summer months. Black flags mark the houses of those jailed during last month’s protests.
On Tuesdays, families of the prisoners held in Casablanca gather at night in front of the bus that takes them to the jailhouse 11 hours away for visits.
Rachida Kaddouri, 46, a civil servant, has been going to Casablanca every week, sometimes taking her two daughters with her. Her husband, Mohamed Mejjaoui, a teacher, who was arrested in late May, is considered to be one of the leaders of the Hirak movement.
Ms. Kaddouri said the solidarity among the prisoners’ families was helping her through the hardship.
“What is most important is that my husband is released,” she said. “He didn’t do anything wrong. He only defended the rights of his countrymen. They could also at least transfer them to a jail closer to us.”
Some of the demands of the July protesters have been met. An oncology unit was opened in Al Hoceima, and the government agreed to hire more civil servants. But many believe that the high level of repression will only amplify the unrest.
Omghar Fikri, a civil servant and a volunteer who helps the families of prisoners organize their weekly visits, believes there is space for compromise.
“We have to create a conversation,” said Mr. Fikri, who is not related to Mouhcine Fikri, the fish seller. “One of the deepest roots of the Hirak movement was the bad relationship with the state. There is a political apathy and a complete loss of trust in politicians. And these problems need to be fixed.”
Ms. Ziani, the released prisoner, who is most commonly known by her artist and Berber name, Silya, has always been a vocal human rights activist. She quit college in October to engage in demonstrations full time, and she has written numerous songs about Mouhcine Fikri and the protests.
“When I wrote the songs, I cried,” she said. “I expressed myself through my songs. That was my way of expressing my anger.”
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