Morocco: Rapper facing possible prison sentence for insulting police

The arrest and prosecution of Moroccan rapper Mohamed Mounir – widely known as Gnawi - is a flagrant assault on the right to freedom of expression, said Amnesty International ahead of the musician’s first trial session on 14 November.

Gnawi was arrested on 1 November and later charged with “offending” public officials and public bodies over a video in which he insults the police. If convicted, he faces up to two years in prison and a fine of 5000 Moroccan Dirhams (around $500 USD). His arrest also comes just days after he released a music video for his song “Aâcha El Chaâb” (Long live the people), in which he criticizes the Moroccan authorities and indirectly makes a derogatory reference to the Moroccan King.

“The arrest of Moroccan rapper Gnawi is an outrageous assault on free speech. He is blatantly being punished for expressing his critical views of the police and the authorities. He must be released immediately and all charges in this absurd case against him dropped,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director.

“While Gnawi may have used offensive language to refer to the police, the right to freely express one’s views, even if shocking or offensive, is protected by international human rights law. No one should face punishment for freely speaking their minds.”

The arrest of Moroccan rapper Gnawi is an outrageous assault on free speech. He is blatantly being punished for expressing his critical views of the police and the authorities.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International

Gnawi appeared before a judge of the Salé Tribunal on 4 November. The evidence cited against him includes a speech he made in a video published on YouTube on 24 October after he was stopped by police at a checkpoint the same night. In the video, he swears at the police and insults them. The timing of Gnawi’s arrest also raises suspicions that it was linked to the music video he had released just days before, which had garnered international attention. In Morocco, insulting the King is a criminal offense. 

He has been held in Laârjate prison in Salé since his arrest two weeks ago.

Gnawi began his rap career in 2011. His songs on YouTube have millions of views. The «Aâcha El Chaâb» video has been viewed over 9 million times.