King kingdom

HRW condemns trial of Moroccan activist for insulting king

Earlier this month, Amnesty International accused Rabat of using false charges to detain activists in a bid to stifle criticism of the authorities.

“There is no right more fundamental than the right to criticize whoever holds power, even if he is king,” HRW said. [Getty]

It seems that the policy of the Moroccan authorities can be summed up in the Moroccan proverb “speak, and your nose will bleed”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its latest report on freedom of expression in the Moroccan kingdom.

On Tuesday, the New York-based human rights watchdog called on the Moroccan government to drop charges against Rabie Al-Ablaq, a Moroccan activist and key figure in the Hirak Rif protests that erupted in the north of Morocco in 2016.

The charges against Al-Ablaq are based on two videos the activist posted last year on Facebook and YouTube, in which he addressed the Moroccan king as “Mr. Mohamed Alaoui, who holds the position of king of Morocco”. A term that some might consider “insulting”, in a country where the constitution imposes a “duty of reverence and respect” for the king, who is generally referred to as “his majesty”.

Al-Ablaq also said that “both the King and Moroccan Prime Minister Akhannouch are billionaires”, and wondered how they got their fortune, asking if it was the result of “looting”.

The 35-year-old activist will appear in court on April 25. He can be sentenced to a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 500,000 MAD (50,924 USD), according to Moroccan bill n° 73.15 and article 179 of the Moroccan penal code. .

“There is no right more fundamental than the right to criticize anyone who holds power, even if he is king. Morocco should stop prosecuting critics like Rabie al-Ablaq on the basis of laws that in effect sanctify the person of the king,” Eric quoted in the report. Goldstein, deputy director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

In 2017, Al-Ablaq was sentenced to five years in prison for “spreading false news” and “usurping the title of journalist”, due to his vocal support for the Hirak protests on different websites.

He received a royal pardon and was released in 2020, after leading several hunger strikes in prison.

Earlier this month, Amnesty International accused Rabat of using false charges to detain activists in a bid to stifle criticism of the authorities, following the arrest of Saida El-Alami, a human rights defender. human rights activist and Moroccan blogger, for “insulting public officials”.

El-Alami is due in court on April 22. Several activists, who dared to support her publicly, now face similar charges.

“In Morocco, the vibrant independent press of the 2000s is only a distant memory. [Moroccan] policy of the authorities seems to be summed up in the Moroccan proverb: Speak, and your nose will bleed,” Goldstein said in the report.

Peaceful criticism of state officials is speech protected by international law, and in particular by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Morocco ratified in 1979.