Free speech sidelined in Morocco
09 Jul 2013

Despite promising reform and introducing a new constitution in 2011, Morocco’s treatment of dissidents indicates the changes were just window dressing, Samia Errazzouki writes

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI announced a constitutional reform process during a 9 March 2011 speech, following popular protests organised by the 20 February Movement. Regime supporters and allies — France and the United States — hailed the move towards reform as “unprecedented.” Morocco was soon referred to as the “model for the region.”

But the government’s repression of freedom of expression has remained steadfast even after the new constitution.

Most recently, in March 2013 dissident rapperMouad Belghouat (alias El Haqed) was released from jail after he served his second, year-long prison sentence over his anti-regime lyrics, which were described as “undermining state authority.”

posztos | ShutterstockIn February 2012, 18-year old Walid Bahomane was charged with “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” after he posted a caricature of Mohammed VI on Facebook. Even though he did not create the illustration, Bahomane was convicted and sentenced to one year in prison for the act of sharing the image.

In the same month, Abdessamad Hidour, an activist with the 20 February Movement faced similar charges after a video of him criticising Mohammed VI was uploaded on Youtube. In the video, he likened Mohammed VI’s reign to colonialism and railed against his corrupt practices, landing him a three-year prison sentence.

These are only a few cases out of many that have drawn widespread attention over the nature of the charges as well as the expedited trials that landed all those charged in jail.

Morocco’s latest constitution supposedly grants the right to freedom of expression, but it still leaves room for repression.

The king stacked the constitutional reform deck by appointing the committee to undertake the work. The reforms introduced some liberalisation, but did not address demands for democratisation of the system. It’s an old trick dating to the 1960s when Morocco’s first constitution was drafted following its independence from France.

The latest version of the constitution incorporates human rights language and places greater attention on the legal protection of free speech, such as the following:

  • Article 10 grants the opposition the “freedom of opinion, expression, and of assembly.”
  • Article 25 states that “The freedoms of thought, of opinion and of expression under all their forms are guaranteed.”
  • Article 28 addresses the press, “The freedom of the press is guaranteed and may not be limited by any form of prior censure.”

Out of context, these articles stand as testaments for what regime supporters describe as “landmark reforms.” However in scrutiny and in practice, these articles have proved to be futile. In Article 28, for example, immediately after stipulating the guarantee of freedom of the press, there is a caveat that leaves this article open to interpretation: “All have the right to express and to disseminate freely and within the sole limits expressly provided by the law, information, ideas, and opinion.” Immediately, “freedom of the press” is limited to a legal framework dictated by the regime and this interpretation has come into play in various recent trials where freedom of speech and press has been threatened, especially in instances when the monarchy has been the target of criticism.

The regime’s response to free speech cases following constitutional reform is swift and relatively consistent, indicating no clear break from its past policies. Despite these violations of freedom of expression, Moroccans continue to express their dissent in multiple media, from online publications to protests on the streets, indicating that the regime’s alleged “path toward reforming” is long and winding.

Samia Errazzouki is a Moroccan-American writer and co-editor of Jadaliyya’s Maghreb Page.

One response to “Free speech sidelined in Morocco”

  1. C. Tree says:

    This demonstrates the short-sightedness of the Makzhen’s policy, a policy that will destroy Morocco as we know it unless the King decides at last to react.

    Fot the last few years the Makhzen has tried to be cunning in the face of the unrest generated by Moroccans becoming ever more dissatisfied with living in a society that is deeply corrupt and unjust. The Makhzen has convinced the King that using the same, tired old recipes to fool a gullible people into dropping its demands, as if they were still living in the 1970s, will work. Of course it won’t. The people are tired, they’ve seen historic changes, revolutions in other countries, they know that they have the ultimate power to change. But they’ve held back because they’re a reasonable people who don’t want the chaos of revolution and, above all, they still harbour a profound respect and love for the King; a certain part of the population still believe that he’ll keep his promises. These are the only reasons keeping a vast majority of Moroccans from taking to the streets. It’s a valuable capital that the King would be very foolish to dilapidate any further.

    This is to reckon without the greed, hypocrisy and fear of the Makhzen, however. They will do anything to protect their wealth and power; they are ready to stoop to the basest actions to prevent change that would threaten their status quo and have frightened the King into following their “advice” by convincing him that any meaningful change would threaten him personally – when the opposite is true; and they are deeply afraid of a future that would entail a revolution and them being made accountable for the decades of pillage of the Moroccan economy for which they’ve been responsible.

    The King would be well-advised to rid himself of the soothsayers and snakes who surround him, take his courage into his own hands before it’s too late and trust his people. They’ll be only to happy to let him continue as King if he demonstrates that he’s really on their side, something he’s conspicuously failed to do up until now.