Zineb el Rhazoui: “The Moroccan regime is past master in the art of conducting sham trials”
From September 9 this year, the Moroccan rapper from the “February 20 Movement”, Mouad Belghouat, has been languishing in prison in Casablanca. No trial date has yet been set. Moreover, all the bail applications presented by the committee of one hundred lawyers who have volunteered to help Mouad in his trial have been refused by the court. Mouad was accused by a member of the royalist forces, arrested, and charged with assault and battery. Mouad’s lawyers claim the witness is false, and that Moroccan justice invented these accusations to gag a rapper who was criticizing the political regime and the Moroccan royal family. Is Mouad’s trial an isolated case? No, claims Zineb el Rhazoui. Quite the opposite: The regime regularly resorts to arbitrary arrests and all manner of intimidation to suppress the protest movement.
Franco-Moroccan journalist Zineb el Rhazoui is co-founder of the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties “MALI”. Death threats have forced the young activist to seek refuge in Belgium.
Magali Kreuzer for ARTE Journal: Do you have any news of Mouad? How are the criminal proceedings progressing?
Zineb el Rhazoui, Moroccan activist: The committee of one hundred lawyers who are defending Mouad, alias Haked (the Enraged), has just announced the rejection of Mouad’s latest bail application. The application was refused by the Casablanca courts on Sunday November 6th. Mouad couldn’t, therefore, spend the Eid al-Adha festival with his family.
ARTE Journal: Why is he being held?
Zineb el Rhazoui: The charge was brought by a certain Mohamed D. who belongs to the Royalist Youth Alliance. So he’s a baltaji, a member of these groups of mercenaries employed and paid handsomely by the regime to organise counter-demonstrations, supposedly defending the king, the homeland, etc. This person, who hasn’t even attended the hearings, reported Mohamed el Haked on a trumped-up charge of assault and battery. But we know that the Moroccan regime is a past master in the art of conducting sham trials. For example, the case of Moroccan boxer Zakaria Moumni, who is a former Muay Thai world champion and who was sentenced to three years in prison for largely similar charges. Two people who probably don’t even exist reported Zakaria Moumni for fraud.
ARTE Journal: Do you know of other cases similar to Mouad’s?
Zineb el Rhazoui: The practice of arrest and sham trials is widespread. Some arrests have been carried out for no stated reason. Mouad el Haked has been held in prison since September 9 without trial. Legal proceedings haven’t been brought and the plaintiff hasn’t even attended a hearing. Mouad wasn’t the only one arrested. There were also people from his support committee. On October 20, Maria Karim, one of Mouad’s support committee members, was arrested. She spent a night in the cells. There are photographs showing her bruising. She was beaten up in the police station in Casablanca by five policemen. She was insulted. She was spat upon, etc. Mouad’s brother was also arrested and then released, as was Nabil al-Qurafi. This young activist, a member of Mouad’s support committee, was arrested by two policemen who came to his home, claiming to be dropping in to take tea with him. They then arrested him. All these arrests were illegal and carried out without a warrant. Some of them have been released. That hasn’t been the case with Mouad, because they have fabricated the evidence.
ARTE Journal: What are the reasons for this wave of arrests?
Zineb el Rhazoui: It’s something, at any rate, that plenty of pro-democracy activists in Morocco have been expecting. After the pretence of constitutional reform, – this constitution drummed up in three months and then passed with ninety-nine percent of “yes” votes in a referendum marked by widespread fraud – comes the time for settling scores. So now, after it has given the impression of calming international opinion, after the Moroccan regime has brandished this sham reform so it can claim on the international scene that it has forestalled the claims of the protest movement, – which is, by the way, far from being the case – the regime has now entered a second phase, that of mass arrests amongst the ranks of the activists and of score-settling. And the regime is going further than arrests. Some have been assassinated. There’s the case of Mohammed Boudouroua, murdered on October 13th in Safi. This unemployed 36-year-old graduate was pushed from the roof of a building by a policeman. Another unemployed graduate was also assassinated in a town in the north of Morocco, Al Hoceima. On his way home from a demonstration in Casablanca, he was murdered by a baltaji, who stuck a knife in his back. Neither of the murderers has been troubled by the police, whereas with Mouad, for whom we’re only asking for bail while awaiting trial, the courts continue to refuse his release when all the conditions are met: he has a clean criminal record and no evidence against him has been presented in court.
ARTE Journal: Don’t these mass arrests go against all the reform promises made by King Mohammed VI?
Zineb el Rhazoui: I must point out that Morocco is far from being a democracy. The Moroccan regime is currently extremely embarrassed by the wave of protests led by the “February 20 Movement” and other representatives of civil society. Social movements are springing up everywhere. The young people are all disaffected, they’re sick of unemployment, the lack of freedoms. They’re sick of the democracy-free zone that is the Moroccan regime. They’re sick of the police state. And now that these young people are going out, expressing themselves, talking freely, and making the Moroccan people aware of the political and economic situation in Morocco, these youngsters are an embarrassment to the regime. I remind you that the King of Morocco, still and despite the constitutional reform, continues to hold power: all the executive military, judiciary and religious power, not to mention economic power. Alone, he concentrates more than half the national economy. By that I mean the King of Morocco personally owns more than sixty-five percent of Morocco’s stock market capitalisation. It’s a situation that cannot go on. So today, after the sham constitutional reforms, there are uprisings in the street, which is very embarrassing for the regime, because we’re in a situation where there’s a direct face-off between the palace and the street.
ARTE Journal: Have you also been targeted for intimidation?
Zineb el Rhazoui: Yes, I have been personally been the target of intimidation. I’ve received a great many death threats. My home address etc. was published on the forums because I granted an interview to an Algerian daily “El Watan” in which I called Mohammed VI a dictator, which obviously didn’t go down well. I was also targeted for unlawful entry last June, when fifteen policemen smashed down the door to my apartment in Casablanca at 5.45 AM to arrest my companion, who is also an opponent of the regime and who was also given a sham trial. He was accused of stealing a computer that belonged to him. As for me, they tried to prosecute me for prostitution under the pretext that I was found under the same roof as a man who wasn’t my legal husband. The regime dropped the charges at the last moment, seeing that I was taking full responsibility for my private life and that I was ready to denounce in the media the fact that the Moroccan regime was willing to prosecute two opponents for supposedly having sex together. That’s how things are in Morocco. It’s far from being the country that was dubbed the ‘Arab exception’, a country that passed an illusory reform that was applauded by Sarkozy and Juppé as a great democratic step forward. Today, this regime continues to practise arbitrary imprisonment, illegal arrest, and torture in the police stations. In Morocco we still have secret detention centres, like that of Temara, the so-called green prison, which is an open secret. We’re not quite in a right-wing state. Control of security remains totally out of the reach of political institutions and representatives of the people. Which goes a long way to explaining why the protests haven’t ceased despite this sham constitutional reform.
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