Update (8.1.2014): The court case against the Moroccan anti-microcredit activists is postponed again until 28 January 2014, because a new judge is being sent from the capital, Rabat.

Update (18.12.2013): The verdict was postponed yesterday until 6 January 2014, due to nine prosecution witnesses not showing up. A demonstration was held in front of the courthouse.

A woman and a man who led protests against microfinance institutions in Morocco are on trial. They risk of five years prison sentence without a chance of parole.

Amina Mourad and Benasser Ismaili, this communiqué (via ATTAC Morocco) reports, are leaders of the Association de Protection Populaire pour le Développement Social, an organisation of roughly 4,500 women who have been rallying against the policies, practices and interest rates of MFIs in Morocco since 2011. Four MFIs took Mourad and and Ismaili to court on counts of libel and threats. After the activists were found “not guilty” in the first instance, a new organisation backed by Planet Finance went into appeal, threatening them again with imprisonment. The verdict is expected on 17 December at the courthouse of the desert city Ouarzazate.

Morocco was the site of a microfinance crisis in 2008, caused by ever-larger loans to groups of borrowers, leading to 10 percent of clients not repaying (or not being able to repay) their loans by June 2009. The central bank estimated that 40 percent of borrowers had loans from more than one MFI just as the repayment crisis began (source). Even the always-positive ACCION Centre for Financial Inclusion admits that there is no effective client protection in Morocco: “Measures have been put in place to advance the adherence to the principles of client protection. While much has been achieved to date, there remains much more yet to be accomplished.”

The World Bank is a major backer of microfinance expansion in Morocco, hoping to show that microfinance markets can recover from the repayment crises they generate. The two largest MFIs in Morocco (Al Amana and FBPMC) earned a rate of profit of 45 and 28 percent, respectively, in the second quarter of this year (Mixmarket).

Jailing the protestors will certainly not improve the reputation of MFIs in Morocco, and may lead to violence. ATTAC have called upon the court to release the accused, asking for an international demonstration of solidarity via letters like this:

Subject: Request for acquittal for both defendants in microcredit trial Ouarzazate

For several months, two community leaders: Amina Morad and Benacer Smaïni, leaders of the Association for People Protection for Social Development are on trial in Ouarzazate.While the four microcredit organizations who had filed a complaint against them withdrew their complaint and that the two activists had been bleached in the first-instance judgement , the Public Prosecutor appealed the judgment and a new body, INMAA ( linked to NGO AMSED and Planet Finance) has brought complainant and helped revive the case.

Debates court highlighted the empty folder and showed how the microcredit system knows many abuses and get families, and women in particular, in a spiral of problems, both financial and material resources and family . Despite this, one wants to criminalize defenders of the latter, probably to keep them quiet.

I wish in this letter to state my full solidarity (or the full solidarity of my organization) with the victims of microcredits and their defenders and my concern that the victims become accused.That is why I ask you to implement everything in your power to end the artificial lawsuits against Amina Morad and Benacer Smaini and they are both acquitted.

Sincerely yours,

Here are the fax numbers of the institutions :

– Province of Ouarzazate : 00212 5 24 88 25 68

– Court of Appeal Ouarzazate : 00212 20 42 24 05 88

– Ministry of Justice: 00212 5 37 72 37 10 or cabinet@justice.gov.ma

Please send a copy to azikiomar2008@gmail.com and attac.maroc.cadtm@gmail.com