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Prominent Moroccan historian and human rights activist arrested in Rabat

Maati Monjib, who has been targeted by authorities using Israeli spyware, is accused of money laundering
Maati Monjib, a Moroccan historian, political analyst and human rights activist, speaks in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, 20 February 2014 (AFP)

Moroccan historian and human rights activist Maati Monjib was arrested in Rabat on Tuesday for alleged money laundering.

Monjib, 58, is a historian at Rabat's Mohammed V University. In 2017 he was reportedly targeted by Moroccan authorities using the infamous Israeli spyware Pegasus, which attempted to hack and spy on his mobile phone.

On Tuesday, Moroccan prosecutors referred Monjib to an investigative judge and he was placed in pre-trial detention in El Arjat prison in Rabat. 

The prosecution said it had launched an investigation in October and had “evidence pointing to money transfers and real estate assets beyond the means of Monjib and his family”, according to AFP.

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Abdulatif al-Hamamouchi, a member of the Moroccan Society for Human Rights, told local media that Monjib was arrested in a restaurant and escorted away by two police vehicles. 

Monjib has denied the money-laundering allegations, saying they were part of a previous case over charges of "financial embezzlement" and "undermining state security" which was opened against him in 2015.

"I am innocent of all these defamatory accusations," he wrote in a Facebook post.

"The purpose of these lawsuits is to punish me because of a recent statement on the radio in which I talk about the role of the General Directorate of Territorial Surveillance"

– Maati Monjib

"The purpose of these lawsuits is to punish me because of a recent statement on the radio in which I talk about the role of the General Directorate of Territorial Surveillance (DGST) in the repression of opponents and the management of political and media affairs in Morocco.”

In October, he launched a three-week hunger strike in protest at a travel ban imposed by Moroccan authorities when he attempted to board a flight to Norway to hold a seminar. 

Monjib is one of the founders of the 20 February Movement, which was launched in 2011 amid the Arab Spring protests that called for democratic reforms and social and economic justice in Morocco and across the Middle East and North Africa.

He has taught in universities in Senegal and the United States, and facilitated dialogues between Islamists and secularists between 2007 and 2010. He is also a syndicated columnist and author. 

Israeli spyware

In October 2019, Amnesty International published a report documenting Morocco's use of Pegasus, spyware developed by Israel's NSO Group, to target Monjib and human rights lawyer Abdessadak El Bouchattaoui.

Amnesty said that the digital attacks against Monjib and Bouchattaoui had begun in 2017, and have been carried through messages containing crafted links, which if clicked install the spyware.

"These targeted digital attacks against two Moroccan human rights defenders are symptomatic of a larger pattern of reprisals against human rights defenders and dissident voices being carried out by Moroccan authorities,” Amnesty said.

NSO Group has sold its Pegasus spyware to several repressive Arab governments, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Morocco, who have used it to spy on journalists and activists.

Israel and Morocco normalised ties in December, in a US-brokered agreement that saw Washington recognise Rabat's claim over the disputed territory of Western Sahara.