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Morocco: Busted for Posting Caricatures of the King on Facebook

On February 7, 2012, Walid Bahomane appeared before a court in the Moroccan capital Rabat. The 18-year-old is accused of “defaming Morocco's sacred values” by posting pictures and videos on Facebook mocking king Mohammed VI of Morocco.

This isn't the first time a Moroccan Internet user has faced such charges. In 2008, Fouad Mourtada, a young engineer, was sentenced to three years in prison for impersonating the king’s brother on Facebook. An international outcry and a campaign of support forced the authorities to release Mr Mourtada a month after his arrest.

Walid Bahomane's arrest is the first since a constitutional reform last summer (theoretically) revoked the “sacred” character of the monarch. The king is still, however, the focus of a great deal of devotion in the country.

A copy of the police report filed against Mr Bahomane emerged on the Internet, revealing a first: according to the document, items seized by the police are “two Facebook pages (sic) containing phrases and images insulting the sacred values, and an IBM computer.​​”

Copy of the police report filed against Mr. Walid Bahomane as posted on Facebook.

Despite calls for his release the judge decided to send Walid to a juvenile detention facility near the capital pending his trial. A group of netizens have reacted to the arrest of Mr Bahomane by creating a support group on Facebook called “Mohammed VI, my freedom is more sacred than you!”, where members are invited to publish and share cartoons of the king.

Cartoon representing King Mohammed VI posted on Facebook

Cartoon representing King Mohammed VI posted on Facebook

The group's preamble reads [ar]:

هذه مجموعة تضامنية مع الشاب وليد بحمان، 18 سنة، معتقل بسجن الأحداث بسلا بتهمة إهانة قداسة محمد السادس على الفيسبوك. فلنثبت لمحمد السادس أن حريتنا أقدس منه
This is a solidarity group with the young Walid Bahoman, aged 18, detained in the juvenile detention facility of Salé for insulting His Majesty Mohammed VI on Facebook. Let us prove to Mohammed VI that our freedom is more sacred than him.

Zineb El Ghazoui, a co-creator of the group, writes on her blog [fr]:

[cette arrestation bat] en brèche la propagande de l'Etat marocain autour du changement et des prétendues avancées démocratiques.

This arrest flies in the face of the propaganda put out by the Moroccan state around the idea of change and the alleged democratic advances.

On Twitter, some are timidly following suit. Musique Arabe tweets [fr]:

@MusiqueArabe Opération soutien à Walid Bahomane – publions tous sur nos profils la caricature de notre choix.

@MusiqueArabe Operation support Walid Bahomane – publish a (king's) cartoon of you choice on your profile.

Despite the recent constitutional reforms in Morocco the regime does not seem prepared to tolerate any violation of its red lines. In July 2011, a few days after the adoption of the new constitution, a French newspaper, Le Courrier International, was censored [fr] in Morocco because it contained an irreverent caricature of the king.

The independent press has often suffered the wrath of the regime when it dared tackle the sensitive subject of the monarchy. So much so that the Internet seems today the last frontier where most Moroccans can still exercise their right to free expression.

Something Moroccan netizens seem to be fully aware of, inspired by the Arab spring, they seem determined to close ranks and show solidarity with Mr Bahomane.

As a result, exercising censorship will be even more difficult for the regime.

  • munir

    this guy should be sent to prison for a long time…we need to reform and create jobs for our people …….lots of kids in morocco are just bad kids,running around with knives and robbing people and stuff…..

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  • He Is

    @ Munir, can’t say this about the kid! I’m moroccan and never understood why moroccans always attack anybody who aspires to freedom….

    You want to live your life like a slave, your choice…can’t impose your views on other people. If people choose to make fun of the king, so be it…don’t want to be made fun of, don’t be a king.

    Munir go do some research about free speech laws in the US. The law says once you become a “Public Figure” then people have the right to criticize you, make fun of you…etc etc. all the things that are done to stars, actors, politicians and celebrities in general.

    The definition of “Public Figure” under the law is anybody who takes a public office or who injects himself into public debate. The king qualifies to be a Public Figure under both definitions. Therefore, it’s fair to make caricatures that picture him.

    You can probably argue that in Morocco, the freedom of speech is not the same as the US. If that’s the case we need to re-write that constitution, because I don’t like the one we have that was initially written by Hassan II and that mohamed 6 (mikhi ) now just re-wrote it…I don’t want to even elaborate on the legal flaws that the Moroccan constitution contains now…

    To give you an example: the new constitution says that the winning party (majority) gets to appoint the prime minister. The majority in Morocco will be hard to reach and therefore, parties need a coalition. What this means is, with a coalition containing many parties it’ll be hard to agree about the prime minister. (I won’t mention that the plurality of parties in Morocco was a policy intended to weaken everyone, they even create their own parties to make it hard for real parties. Divide and conquer)

    The problem with the new constitution is that it does not say what happens if the majority fails to agree about whom to appoint as a prime minister. Article 53 of the Constitution provides that the King is the “[final and] Ultimate Referee/ judge” That means he’ll eventually gets to appoint he prime minister.

    See Constitution du Maroc (art. 53). “il est représentant suprême de la nation, il est l’arbitre en dernière instance entre les institutions.”

    The other thing is that he makes himself the one in charge of protecting democracy when in fact he is the problem blocking democracy. Art 53. il veille à la «…la protection du choix démocratique et des droits et libertés »

    I hope that you see this, he is a player and referee at the same time in this game.!! it DON’T WORK that way Homey !

    So that was the legal standpoint. The human aspect of this is your king is no better than anybody else and can be made fun of. He has done nothing to improve the life of Moroccans anyway.

    But hey as the French philosopher said :” Le Roi n’a d’autre objectif social que de rester sur la monarchie.” Otherwise, you can always look to the Quran “Ida dakhala al moolookoo 9aryatan affssadouha wa ja3alo a3azza ahliha adilatan…”

    My two cents…

    • He Is

      Translation of the Quran passage for our English speaking readers, just so they know the stand of Islam regarding kings and monarchs.

      “If the kings enter a village, they spoil it and make its proudest people humiliated.”

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  • Nadar

    Unlimited freedom of speech is not always convenient for the country or for the people -check out what the feb.20 movement is doing – its members don’t help ,they’re becoming the probem, they’re practicing vandalisme acts – without some boundaries the structures fall apart -

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