Moroccan Dissident Rapper Sentenced

El Haqed

Photo Credit: AFP

Prominent activist and rapper, Mouad Belghouat (also known as Al-Haqed), was sentenced to four months in prison after being found guilty of “being drunk in public and assaulting police officers.” The trial has largely been considered unfair, as the ruling was delivered with Belghouat’s lawyers absent from the courtroom after they left the last hearing complaining that “the court had not complied with any of their demands, including summoning the police officers who brought the charges and the defense witnesses.”

Belghouat, known for his “anti-corruption, pro-democracy lyrics,” was arrested in May at a football stadium and reportedly beaten by police officers before being handcuffed. His family has accused the state of capitalizing on “a moment of ostensible illegal activity to lock him up…for his dissidence.”

Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson noted, “This wouldn’t be the first time that what looks like an unfair trial on common criminal charges has served to silence a persistent critic in Morocco.” Belghaout’s 2011 song “Stop the Silence” inspired citizens to “take to the streets in defiance of…the state’s monopoly on major industries…and its violence backlash against dissent,” and also birthed the February 20th Youth Movement which Belghaout has been closely associated with. The demands from the protesters and the youth movement have resulted in a new 2011 constitution, although many believe “the document has done little to change the status quo or strengthen the rule of law.”

While the  February 20th Youth Movement’s demonstrations were relatively tolerated by Moroccan authorities,  officials have instead moved towards silencing activists through “repression,” such as the May conviction of nine activists, based on little to no evidence. Whitson highlights this tactic, noting that “Morocco hosts international music festivals every spring, summer, and fall, but can’t seem to tolerate the troubadour of its own February 20 movement.”