Morocco/Western Sahara: Crackdown against activists for criticizing the King, public institutions and officials
The Moroccan authorities are intensifying their crackdown on peaceful voices with a new wave of arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of individuals, including a journalist, rappers and Youtubers, many of whom have been targeted simply for criticizing the King or other officials, said Amnesty International today.
The Moroccan authorities’ concept of a “red line” is essentially a ban on criticising the monarchy or state institutions, which is being used with renewed enthusiasm to target peaceful activists and artists. Youtubers, rappers and journalists now face harsh prison sentences after being targeted with repressive laws
The organisation has documented the cases of at least ten activists who have been unlawfully subjected to arrests, interrogation and harsh sentences since November. Four have been accused of "offending" or "insulting" the King or the Monarchy known to be one of the three ‘red lines’ for freedom of expression in Morocco. All ten individuals have been accused of "offending" public officials or institutions, all crimes under Morocco’s Penal Code.
"The Moroccan authorities’ concept of a “red line” is essentially a ban on criticising the monarchy or state institutions, which is being used with renewed enthusiasm to target peaceful activists and artists. Youtubers, rappers and journalists now face harsh prison sentences after being targeted with repressive laws,” said Heba Morayef, MENA regional director at Amnesty International.
“It is urgent that the authorities amend Morocco’s Penal Code which retains an arsenal of provisions that criminalize freedom of expression and have been unlawfully used to supress dissent in the country.”
Between November 2019 and January 2020, nine out of the 10 individuals and activists-were handed cruel prison sentences ranging between 6 months and four years.
On 1 December, Settat police arrested blogger Mohamed Sekkaki, known as Moul El Kaskita, a few days after he published a video on YouTube criticizing the King and a new tax on YouTube users. The Settat court sentenced him to four years in prison and a fine of 40 000 dirhams (around $4000) based only on penal code provisions related to "insulting the King" and "offending" public officials. His appeal trial is scheduled for 11 February.
On 5 December, police in Rabat arrested a YouTube influencer, Omar Ben Boudouh, also known as Moul El Hanout for offending "public officials" and "institutions" and "incitement to hatred". Amnesty International has reviewed Boudouh’s interrogation report which largely shows he was arrested on bogus charges for expressing his views. On 7 January, he was sentenced to three years in prison, subsequently he began a hunger strike to date in Tifelt prison where he is held.
The Moroccan authorities must urgently reform the Penal Code to decriminalize articles that have been used to repress freedom of speech
Another influencer and Youtuber, Youssef Moujahid, was arrested on 18 December and accused of "offending" public officials and institutions and "incitement to hatred". Moujahid's legal case was added to that of Boudouh because he was publishing on his page "Nhabek ya Maghribe" videos commenting on Boudouh's statements. Their appeal is scheduled on 12 February.
On 17 December, the Meknes First Instance Tribunal sentenced high school student Ayoub Mahfoud, 18, to three years imprisonment and 5000 dirhams fine (around $500) for a social media post. He was accused of "offending" public officials and institutions. He was provisionally released on 16 January, pending his appeal session, which is set to take place on 30 March.
A journalist, Omar Radi, was also arrested on 26 December for a tweet he posted criticizing the judicial system for upholding the verdict against Hirak el Rif protesters. A few days after his arrest, he was provisionally released, pending his next trial on 5 March this year.
Omar Radi told Amnesty International that his interview with the Algerian media "Radio M", where he criticized Moroccan authorities for what he called the expropriation of tribal lands by the State, was the reason for his arrest upon his return from Algeria.
On 29 December, rapper Hamza Sabaar, known as STALiN, was arrested in Laayoune and convicted a few days later to three years in prison for a rap song he published on Youtube. In the song, he criticized the deteriorated socio-economic situation in the country. On 16 January, a court reduced his sentence to eight-months imprisonment.
Authorities should drop the charges and free all individuals prosecuted and convicted for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression; and stop using archaic Penal Code provisions to criminalize free speech
On 24 December, the authorities in the city of Tata arrested activist Rachid Sidi Baba and the judge later convicted him to six months prison and a fine of 5000 dirhams (around $500) for publishing one YouTube video where he expresses his frustration about land exploiting by foreign investors without significant involvement of return benefits to local communities. The verdict in his case is scheduled on 13 February.
On 9 January, a Court in Khenifra convicted Abdelali Bahmad, alias Ghassan Bouda to two years imprisonment and a fine of 10 000 dirhams (around $1000) for "insulting" the Monarchy and its symbols. Prosecutors used four online posts that Bouda published on Facebook as evidence. According to his lawyer, in one of the posts, Bouda expressed his support to Hirak El-Rif protests.
“Authorities should drop the charges and free all individuals prosecuted and convicted for simply exercising their right to freedom of expression; and stop using archaic Penal Code provisions to criminalize free speech," said Heba Morayef
"The Moroccan authorities must urgently reform the Penal Code to decriminalize articles that have been used to repress freedom of speech".
In its May 2017 submission to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Amnesty International called on the Moroccan authorities to repeal those provisions, especially after the country passed a Press Code that decriminalized speech offenses in 2016. At the same time however, new provisions criminalizing "insult" to Islam and the territorial integrity were reintroduced in the Penal Code.
In October 2019, the National Committee for Human Rights (CNDH) submitted to the parliament a memorandum aimed at amending the Moroccan Penal Code to ensure that it complies with the principles of legitimacy, necessity and proportionality.