Three years for profiling a Moroccan prince on Facebook

A 26-year-old IT engineer has been given a three-year prison term and fined 10,000 dirhams (US$1,320) for creating a profile of Morocco’s Prince Moulay Rachid on Facebook. He was convicted after a trial in Casablanca on Friday.

The trial was observed by two Amnesty International delegates. The organisation has said that it is concerned that the trial failed to satisfy international fair trial standards.

Fouad Mourtada said that two plain-clothes security agents arrested him on the morning of 5 February 2008 just after he left his home to go to work and forced him into a car.

He says they blindfolded him and covered him with a sheet, then drove him to an unknown place where they slapped and beat him until he “confessed” that he had placed a profile of the Prince on Facebook in order to “get girlfriends”.

The official police report, however, gives 6 February as his date of arrest. His family was only notified of it at 5.30pm on 7 February. Moroccan law requires that arrests are notified once people are taken into police custody.

Fouad Mourtada was taken before an investigative judge on 8 February, without the presence of a lawyer. He then remained in custody until his trial on 22 February.

Fouad Mourtada’s defence counsel urged the court at his trial to annul the proceedings because his rights had been breached during his arrest and interrogation. However, the court refused and also failed to order an investigation into his allegations of ill-treatment.

The court convicted him of modifying and falsifying information technology data and usurping an official’s identity.

At his trial, Fouad Mourtada admitted placing the profile of the Prince, the younger brother of Morocco’s Head of State, King Mohamed VI, on Facebook. He said he had done this out of admiration for him, not out of any wish to undermine the monarchy as asserted by the prosecution during the trial.

The prosecution contended that the fact that he had created an email address for the profile showed that he wished to derive some benefit from it. The case is now expected to go to appeal.

Amnesty International has called on the Moroccan authorities to ensure that allegations of unlawful ill-treatment are fully and impartially investigated.

“Anyone found responsible for ill-treatment should be brought to justice,” said Amnesty International spokesperson Benedicte Goderiaux. “No information, including any ‘confession’ obtained under torture or ill-treatment should be admitted as evidence in court, in accordance with international standards, including human treaties to which Morocco is a party.  

“The authorities should ensure that Fouad receives a new trial in accordance with international standards of fairness or that the conviction be reversed and he be released.”