Morocco: Authorities Reinforce Online Crackdown


Walid Bahomane, an 18-year-old student, was tried behind closed doors in Rabat earlier this month on charges of Internet "piracy" and "insulting the sacred values of Morocco and the King" for posting humorous videos and cartoons, including a cartoon of the King, on Facebook.

Apparently deciding that the case did not involve free expression, the court finally convicted him on the piracy charge alone on 16 February, sentencing him to a year in prison and a fine of 10,000 dirhams (1,000 euros).

Bahomane has been held since 24 January, when the police "seized two Facebook pages (sic) containing phrases and images that insulted sacred values, and an IBM computer." This young netizen is appealing against his conviction but no date has been set for a hearing.

Another student, Abdelsamad Haydour, 24, was convicted in a summary trial behind closed doors in the northern city of Taza on 13 February for criticizing the king in a video posted on YouTube. The court sentenced him to three years in prison and a fine of 10,000 dirhams on a charge of "attacking the nation's sacred values."

In the 4-minute video, filmed during a demonstration in Taza, Haydour lambasted the regime and described the king as a "dog of a dictator." He was not allowed access to a lawyer of his choice and the court did not assign one to defend him during the trial.

Mohamed El Boukili, a member of the Moroccan Human Rights Association's administrative committee, told Reporters Without Borders that irregularities marked both trials. Both Bahomane and Haydour signed statements without their lawyer being present and after being held in custody and harassed by the police.

"Such procedures are unfortunately the norm in Morocco and, in cases involving the king's sacred status, prosecutions end only too often in prison sentences," El Boukili told Reporters Without Borders.

Reporters Without Borders has also noted a surge in pro-government cyber-activism on the Moroccan Internet. A group calling itself Kingdom Moroccan Attack keeps hacking into the Facebook pages and email accounts of independent journalists and members of the opposition 20 February Movement.

Pro-government disinformation and propaganda campaigns are also being waged online. According to the VoxMaroc blog, some of these campaigns are being steered by the cyber-police, who also have very sophisticated Internet surveillance tools. One of these is a spy programme provided by the French company Amesys.