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Back Publications Briefings Freedom of Expression in Morocco: Retraction of freedom of expression in Morocco: The Case of Al-Adal Wa Al-Ihsan (Justice and Spirituality Movement)

Freedom of Expression in Morocco: Retraction of freedom of expression in Morocco: The Case of Al-Adal Wa Al-Ihsan (Justice and Spirituality Movement)

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This briefing details the restrictions to the freedom of expression in the kingdom of Morocco. It also investigates the cultural and political factors involved, and the nature of the sensitive issues that are restricted within the country.

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Introduction

Morocco has ratified the treaties of the UDHR, the ICCPR, and ICESCR. Its Constitution states in its ninth article that, “The constitution shall guarantee all citizens the following:

  1. Freedom of movement through, and of settlement in all, parts of the Kingdom;
  2. Freedom of opinion, of expression in all its form, and of public gathering;
  3. Freedom of association and the freedom to belong to any union or political group of their choice.
  4. No limitation, except by Law, shall be put to the exercise of such freedoms”


Yet in spite of its supposedly favourable position in the constitution, Morocco's commitment to freedom of expression has been tested over and over again, and has too often been found wanting. This has been especially true during times of national tension, such as the social and military upheavals under King Hassan II or the recent attacks under the present King, Mohamed VI. The following briefing aims to explain how the right of freedom of expression is restricted in Morocco. It also investigates the cultural and political factors involved, and the nature of the sensitive issues that are restricted within the country.

The Moroccan context
Freedom of expression as understood in the context of Morocco, usually refers to the right of citizens to express criticism of the regime,its policies and decisions which stem from the cultural, social and economic nature of the country. The Moroccan constitution is built upon three principle pillars, Islam, the Monarchy and the issue surrounding the Western Sahara. It is evident that criticism of the regime's interpretation of these three founding pillars is actively discouraged, and presented by the authorities as being unpatriotic.

Freedom of expression in Morocco should also be viewed in light of the country's socio-economic status, which of course renders any mode of communication or expression inadequate due to the lacking levels of technology within the frail and dated communication infrastructure. Weakness of planning and coordination in the press sector, low levels of technology, poor training, and internal problems in both official and private media institutions, have all led to this rapid decrease in critical media and political discourse. This then, along with the excessive levels of centralization and media control, plus the alienation of large parts of the population has placed Morocco alongside other countries such as Egypt and Zimbabwe as the world's worst offenders with respect to restrictions on freedom of expression and speech.

There are three constraints on freedom of expression in Morocco that are not open to discussion; the Monarchy, Islam and the Western Sahara. Any attempt to criticize any aspect of the regime's interpretation of these three fundamental pillars has too often led to drastic consequences. The press code as mentioned in the previous chapter states in Article 41, that any offence against the King or the Royal Princes will be punished by three to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to 100.000 dirhams (£6250). The same punishment will be meted out for an offence against Islam, the monarchical system or Morocco's territorial integrity. Also, any conviction under this article will lead, if applicable, to the suspension of the offending journal for no less than three months if not more. The Moroccan media has been limited by these constitutional principles during the reign of both King Hassan and his son Mohamed VI. To understand the power of these rules, it is necessary to shed light on the cultural and historical roots form which the Moroccan regime throughout the history of its Alaouit existence, derives its religious and political legitimacy, and hence its constitutional right to oppress opponents.

The case of Al Adal Wa Al- Ihsan (JSM)
The best contemporary example of the authorities' restriction on freedom of expression is the case of Abdessalam Yassine, the spiritual leader of Al Adal Wa Al- Ihsan (JSM). During the 1960s, the most serious opposition faced by Hassan II came from the socialist left. The King was able to weaken this opposition eventually by force and by highlighting its atheistic nature and its evident hostility towards Islam1. During the course of the1970's, the Islamic movement emerged as the strongest opposition to the regime and questioned the King's Islamic rhetoric. They demanded that he begin to genuinely rule according to his self propagated post as 'head of believers.'

Weaknesses of the opposition created a fertile ground for Islamists. This alongside the absence of the country's traditional Ulama (scholars) due to their bureaucratization created a void which the Islamic movement was quick to fill.2 The Moroccan Islamists were able unlike any other opposition group before them, to reach out to the populace and break the cycle of exclusion. They are considered by a substantial percentage of Moroccans to have restored an element of self-esteem to their followers, and identified real injustices that many chose to ignore3. Attempting to play the traditional psychosomatic and societal role within Moroccan life, the Islamists have tried to focus their efforts on social work in their effort to de-marginalize people in what is by international standards an economically underdeveloped country. The international conditions worked in favour of the Islamic movement's success, from the success of the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, to the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Gulf War.

Sheik Yassine's movement has been one of the most fundamental and ideological. It is considered by all parties to be the strongest opposition movement in terms of numbers and in terms of its achievements and impact on Moroccan society, especially in the rural areas. With its multiple charitable, educational, and recreational associations, in addition to the charismatic leadership of its Sheikh, JSM has managed to gain the sympathy of many people inside and outside of the country.

Background of Sheikh Yasssine
Sheikh Yassine after a long and varied journey through Islam became politicized in the early 1970s. In 1974, he wrote a one hundred and fourteen page open risala (epistle) to King Hassan, entitled Al-Islam aw At-Tufan (Islam or the Deluge). In his epistle, Shaykh Yassine used a very striking discourse that was unheard before in the Moroccan context, where the King is the 'commander of the faithful' and the 'shadow of God on earth.' Yassine articulated his belief that the king was living in a state of fear due to his policy of repression. He reminded King Hassan of his immense fortune, and accused the king of manipulating Islam and using it as a political tool. He also commented critically on the king's decision to disarm the army after the attempted coups.5

Sheik Yassine was imprisoned from 1974 until 1978. In December 1983, he published two newspapers; “Assobh” (Morning) and “ Al- Khitab” (Discourse). He shortly found himself behind bars once more due to his publication of the Quranic verse, “Morning will be their hour; the morning isn't it very close?” The authorities took this to suggest that Sheik Yassine was threatening an Iranian-style Islamic revolution.11 In December 1989, the police stopped permitting visits to Sheik Yassin's house, where he remained under house arrest in Sale until May 2000. Both Moroccan and international human rights organizations condemned the house arrest of Sheik Abdessalam Yassine and the banning of the publications of the JSM.

The Morocco 12
Another case where the Regimes repressive nature can be witnessed is that of the twelve students in Morocco. Serving a prison sentence of twenty years in the Bou Rkyaz prison in Fezsince 1991, they face false accusations of murder. Their names are listed as follows:
Yahya AlAbdalaoui
Mohammed Allilaoui
Ahmed Attaj
Belkasim Azikaki
Mostapha Housayni
Mohammed Belhadi
Noreddine Attaj
Mohammed Azzaoui
Mohammed Alghazali
Ali Hidaoui
Almoutawakil Belkhadir
Belkasim Altanouri.

The only provable link between these twelve students was their affiliation to JSM and 'their support for its opposition to the non-Islamic policies of the…Moroccan regime.'

For further information, see IHRC's campaign pack on the 12 at:
http://www.ihrc.org.uk/show.php?id=2351

Nadia Yassine
In recent years, the policy and opposition of the Moroccan authorities has not changed towards Al-Adle Wa Al-Ihsan; on the contrary it has grown stronger. Currently, Nadia Yassine, daughter of Sheikh Abdesalam Yassine, faces indictment over a statement she made in an interview against the Moroccan authorities in June 2005. 'She adamantly criticized the monarchy and favoured the republic as the proper system of government…closest to the Islamic theory of political power.' She is expected to face from 3 to 5 years in prison with a fine of up to $100,000. Her trial since its inception has been postponed repeatedly. Critics have argued that her case has been used for political purposes at times deemed appropriate by the authorities.

Rachid Ghoulam
Rachid Ghoulam is a popular nasheed (religious songs) artist in Morocco and is a spiritual educationalist for JSM. 25 year old Rachid, in April of this year, was charged and convicted of encouraging moral corruption and prostitution, and sentenced to one month imprisonment with a fine of 1000 dhs (approx £60).

Rachid has categorically denied the charges against him, testifying that he was kidnapped by the police, stripped naked and tortured. He was then forced to pose with a prostitute while the police took pictures. The police demanded that he reveal information about the finances and activities of JSM. When he refused, the police went public with his pictures and brought him to court to be charged.

Convincing evidence has been produced by his defence team, such as the testimony of the prostitute who admitted that she and Rachid were forced to pose together. Rachid went on hunger strike to protest against the conviction and vowed not to eat till he was cleared of all charges.

He was due to travel to Egypt to perform in the Mawlid (celebration of the Prophet birthday) scheduled for 1 April 2007 at the Cairo Opera House. However, he was captured by the police and charged with adultery. According to Rachid's lawyer, Issam Brahimi, he was set up by the police to discredit JSM.

According to Rachid, he was seized by the police on 25 March 2007 from his home in Casablanca and taken to a forest in El Jadida where he was stripped naked, beaten and tortured. He was subjected to electric shocks all over his body including his private parts. The police then took him to a brothel and forced him to pose with a prostitute to have his pictures taken with her. They then threatened to destroy his reputation and career with the pictures unless he gave them information about the finances and activities of JSM. However, he refused to divulge any information. Consequently, the police leaked the details of the arrest and the case to the media in advance of the trial. As regards to disclosing the arrest details to the media, Rachid's lawyer stated that the police had "violated the confidentiality of the investigation, which invalidates all further actions by the prosecution."

Rachid was then brought to court in El Jadida and charged with adultery on 27 April 2007. His wife, however, defended him and testified that she believed him innocent of the charges made against him. The adultery charge was withdrawn the next day, when he was subsequently charged with encouraging moral corruption and prostitution. Hundreds of JSM supporters held a demonstration outside the courthouse on 28 March 2007 to protest against Rachid's arrest.

On 30 March 2007, fifty lawyers defended Rachid's case for twelve hours. In the court he revealed that he had applied for a visa to Cairo a month before the Mawlid celebrations, which was initially denied to him after pressure from the Moroccan government. When a number of other artists from Cairo lobbied in his favour, the Egyptian authorities reversed their decision and issued him a visa. He believes that his arrest was a reaction to this aforementioned incident.

The prostitute, Asmaa Rkik, bore witness in favour of Rachid and denied having any relationship with him. She revealed that the police had forced her and Rachid to pose together. The only witnesses against him were the police and security services who were involved in his arrest. The judge presiding over the trial was also convinced of Rachid's innocence.

However, Rachid's claims of being beaten were categorically denied by the medical examination ordered by the court. The court also disallowed any independent authority to investigate the torture. Further, an official from the Justice Ministry stated that evidence of Rachid's guilt exists. Therefore, both he and Asmaa were convicted on charges of encouraging adultery and were sentenced to one month in jail on 30 March 2007.

An independent newspaper As Sahifa stated while commenting on the court sentence, "We are facing two contradictory versions…The state was the first to politicise the affair...and the target was not the person named but the Islamist association which is not on good terms with the authorities."

Further, one of the JSM's leaders, Hassan Bennajeh, stated that Rachid's case was the latest in a series of campaigns against the group by the Moroccan authorities. He said, "The authorities think its worth harming the honour of a member of the association, which calls for respect for moral values."

Rachid since his one month interment is striving to clear his name, through the courts.

Hayat Bouida
In July 2006, Hayat Bouida was abducted and tortured for three hours by 6 Intelligence agents in Safi, a city 300 kilometers south of Casablanca. In May 2007, she was stabbed by 2 Intelligence agents in front of her house. She has been harassed by threatening phone calls at night. Her 6 year-old daughter was also run over by motorcycle. Non-Government Observers have all suggested that her only crime was her membership to the JSM and her role in educating illiterate citizens.

Omar Mohib
Omar Mohib, a former JSM student leader, was prosecuted for a supposed murder. His trial began in 2006 and, like that of Nadia Yassine, is repeatedly postponed to later dates. Omar Mohib is "accused" of having murdered a leftist student in 1992. Three of his lawyers, who were students at that time, testify that an the time the alleged murder took place in Fes, Omar Mohib was in Casablanca (300 kilometers away) giving a talk for the the annual student festival, which they attended.


Other examples of State Repression of JSM
Recent statistics documented in 2006 prove that the Moroccan authorities have been leading a continued campaign of oppression against the organisation since early May of that same year. Houses and premises belonging to members have been besieged, their activities have been banned and hundreds of its members, numbering up to 2266, have been arrested.

The JSM tried to organize open house events in many Moroccan cities in order to introduce their aims and activities to the public and to clarify all misconceptions and misunderstanding surrounding their theory and practice. But the Moroccan government has viewed their efforts as a threat to the security and integrity of the nation and hence has organized synchronized raids to abort the open house events forcibly. Many members have been tortured and terrorised and their meeting places have been destroyed.


Conclusion

IHRC calls upon the Moroccan authorities to release all political prisoners of whichever confessional, political or ethnic background. Additionally the Moroccan authorities must cease all malicious prosecutions and begin effective long term programmes to develop good governance and representative politics.

IHRC further calls on the authorities (whilst recognising the restrictions on free speech that effective laws on hate speech require), to abide by the international treaties of human rights, which the government has signed and agreed to abide by, including UDHR, the ICCPR, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. All these charters insist on freedom of expression as one of the most fundamental rights.


END NOTES

  1. H Munson Religion and Power in Morocco (Yale University Press New Haven and London 1993) 149
  2. F Soudan”the “Saber and the Qur'an” Jeune Afrique L'Intelligent, ( Indeendent newsmagazine) Aug. 12-25, 2002
  3. ibid.
  4. ibid. (Yasin studied at the traditional Islamic Al- Yussifiyya University in Marrakech and become a teacher of Arabic and then inspector in the Ministry of education. He was a devout Muslim in the 1950; at the age of thirty eight Yassine has what he calls a spiritual crisis. Yassin joined the Suffii brotherhood of butshishiyya ( Zawiya). He left it later claiming that materialism had prevailed in the brotherhood.)
  5. S O Hughes Morocco under King Hassan (Garner Publishing Limited UK 2001) 325
  6. M Tozy Monarchie et eslam Politique au Maroc (Presses de Siences PO Paris 1999) 188
  7. H Munson Religion and power in Morocco (Yale University Press New Haven and London 1993) 166-167
  8. M Tozy Monarchie et Islam Politique ( Garner Publishing Limited UK 2001) 295
  9. S O Hughes Morocco under King Hassan (Garner Publishing UK 2001) 295
  10. M Tozy Monarchie et Islam Politique (Garner Publishing Limited UK 2001) 295
  11. M Tozy Monarchie et Islam Politique (Garner Publishing Limited UK 2001) 296
  12. M Tozy Monarchie et Islam Politique au Maroc ( Presses de siences PO Paris 1999) 189
  13. “Islamist Movements in Morocco the Saber and the Quran” (From the November 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 11)
  14. “Islamist Movements in Morocco the Saber and the Quran” (From the November 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 11)

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Telephone (+44) 20 8904 4222
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Email: info@ihrc.org
Web: www.ihrc.org

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