In Morocco Freedom of Speech Meets Limits Despite ‘Reforms’
Last week, an eighteen-year-old blogger, Walid Bahomane, appeared in court to face accusations of “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” for posting unflattering images and video of the King of Morocco, Mohamed VI, to Facebook. The police report against Bahomane mentioned “two Facebook pages containing phrases and images insulting the sacred values.” Following pro-democratic protests last year in the kingdom, the monarchy begun a reform process. The monarchy called for legislative elections which allowed the Justice and Development party to win the largest parliament representation on November 2011. Moroccan Constitution was also reformed and, the “sacred” character of the monarch was revoked. However, Bahomane was jailed for posting caricatures of the King.
In a letter to the Moroccan Minister of Communication, Mustapha Khalfi, Human Right Watch (HRW) expressed its discontent to the Minister’s “decision on February 3 to ban issues of two French weeklies, Le Nouvel Observateur and Le Pèlerin, on the grounds that the former contains a pictorial representation of God and the latter a representation of the Prophet Muhammad.” The letter referred to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that Morocco signed, which guarantees freedom of expression, except if there is “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence,” said the Article 20. However HRW considered that “While some Muslims may take offense at any pictorial representations of God or Muhammad, the publication of such images hardly constitute ‘incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.’ ” The HRW Executive Director Middle East and North Africa Division, Sarah Leah Whitson, stated (in French) ”These prohibitions violate the right of Moroccans to read - or not read - publications of their choice, just months after they approved a new constitution that is supposed to guarantee freedom of expression and the press.”
A week after Mohammed VI issued pardons to Salafia Jihadia’s militants which officials had accused of being linked to violent Islamist attacks, one of their leader, Hassan Kettani, said ”We are free thanks to the Arab Spring.” However the leaders added that there were still dozens of inocent islamists detained that should be released.