Gay Morocco News & Reports 2002-08

Also see:
Islam and Homosexuality
Behind the Mask
LGBT African website

Love, Sex and Religion–Murder in Muslim Morocco

Also see:
More information about Islam & Homosexuality can be found at:
Other articles of interest can be found at:
Queer Muslim magazine: Huriyah

Gay Islam discussion groups:

1 A Gay Man’s Journal of Morocco: Seductive Contradictions 2002-03

2 Love, Sex and Religion–Murder in Muslim Morocco 12/04

3 Arrest of the murderer of an American expat in El Jadida 12/03

4 Editor of newspaper sentenced to six months in prison for "defamation" 6/04

5 Sex Scandal–Gay porno network sentenced to 30 years in prison 3/06

6 Moroccan group voices women’s demands in upcoming elections 8/07

7 Gay defence school 8/07

8 Hundreds protest turning Morocco into a "brothel" 11/07

9 Six Men in Morocco Sentenced to Prison for ‘Homosexual Conduct’ 12/07

10 Homo Witch Hunt in Morocco 12/07

11 Morocco court upholds jail for 6 for homosexual acts 1/08

12 Morocco’s family code has received a positive assessment 2/08

13 Petition calls for repeal of repressive gay sex law 2/08

14 Hate speech divides Moroccan press 3/08

15 Petition for men convicted over "gay party" in Morocco 3/08

16 Arab human rights activists meet in Morocco to draft law 3/08

17 Morocco Poised to Fight Child Labor 6/08

18 Chat Rooms Offer Romance to Maghreb Residents–Including Lesbians 8/08

19 Moroccan court upholds sentence for human rights’ activist 8/08

20 Moroccan study finds prostitutes lacking AIDS awareness 11/08

21 Moroccan artists sign Artists’ AIDS Pact 12/08

22 Human Rights Watch report reignites debate 12/08

23 Morocco moves to safeguard human rights 12/08


A Gay Man’s Journal of Morocco: Seductive Contradictions -The delicate balance between seemingly opposing worlds is the secret to Morocco’s splendor

by Kai Wright
I approached the hammam in Meknez’s run-down old quarter with the sophomoric swagger of book-learned wisdom. You see, my boyfriend and I are not as adventuresome as we’d like to believe. The first step in our annual escape into the mundane rituals of an unfamiliar culture is extensive research. He mines travel books and Web sites, compiling a checklist of dos and don’ts—such as, don’t touch the tops of people’s heads in Thailand—while I feign confident indifference until I’m able to furtively pour over his findings. This system heads off embarrassing gaffes pretty well.

So inside the hammam I knew to wrap a towel tightly around my waist while putting on my bathing suit—gym class style—thus respecting what I’d been told was rule number one of a Moroccan traditional bath: Don’t strut around naked. I also knew not to pollute the wellspring from which the bath’s waters flowed by dunking in my personal water bowl. Rather, I waited for the attendant to hand out old wooden buckets brimming with steaming spring water, and used these to save myself from another rude slip up: When bathing, one shouldn’t allow his run-off to flow into a neighbor’s space. With the buckets, you can erect a dam-like perimeter and avoid making offense.

But none of our research prepared me for the most insurmountable challenge I faced inside the baths
. In a nutshell, the Meknez hammam was a small, steamy room full of young, nubile men wearing tight bikini shorts and rubbing one another with sponges, and I was nothing more than a seventh grader who had been called to the front of the class while harboring an incriminatingly prominent hard on. Distraction was impossible, especially once the attendant—whom we’d hired as a sort of hygiene tour guide—began scrubbing my boyfriend, offering a lesson on how to remove your bathing partner’s dead skin.

At this, my member’s betrayal became complete. And its sudden swelling would have surely caused a scandalizing exposure if not for the calming effect of my quiet mantra: This is not sexual, I chanted; this is just bathing.
My real problem stemmed not from the sight of so many pretty boys doing something so blatantly homoerotic
. Rather, my loins burned with the knowledge that, in their minds, it was just washing up. Now, I’m not talking about fetishizing straight guys here. Mine was an obsession with nuance, with the fine line that lay between a decidedly asexual and an explosively erotic act. This sort of delicate balance is in fact the secret to Morocco’s splendor. From moonscaped desserts hiding plush oases of palms to bustling, labyrinthine medinas housing the serene sitting rooms of rug dealers, Morocco is a place of seductive contradictions.

Everybody’s got a social autopilot, an internal navigator that kicks in when it picks up the relevant environmental clues. As a gay man, if I walk into a bar, restaurant or any public space and see nothing but men, my autopilot assumes I’m among, well, “family.” But this is the first of many settings that need recalibrating in Morocco, where public space is universally gender segregated.

Men from sixteen to seventy cram into crowded open-air cafes that are off limits to their wives, sisters and mothers. They sit theater-style on terraces, watching street life pass by. Alcohol is rarely seen in the Muslim country, so they down syrupy-sweet tea by the gallon and suck on cigarettes as though they’re respirators. And as they drink and suck and watch, the men engage in the favored parlor game of Arab societies: arguing about politics.

We arrived in Morocco not long after 9-11
, and much of the chatter turned on determining the attackers’ true identities. Whenever the debaters engaged us, all agreed that a mild-mannered nation like Morocco could never be associated with such an extreme act. As we roamed the backstreets of Meknez—Fez’s lesser-known neighboring city—it was hard to avoid such encounters with Morocco’s legions of idle young men (nearly a quarter of Morocco’s population is unemployed, and many younger men truly have little more to do than drink tea and talk politics).

Traveler’s paranoia, heightened by the recent political tensions, made us initially offish. But once we dropped our unneeded guards our interactions usually mirrored Moroccans’ relationship with the West in general. Our new friends would intermittently express disdain and adoration for the U.S., revealing profound distrust in one breath—their certainty that President Bush staged the terrorist attacks to shame the Muslim world—and eager fascination in the next—their excited quizzes on Elvis, Motown and Superman.

But Morocco’s real passion is commerce, and most fascination with our Western roots segued into a deeper interest in our wallets. From hard-haggling suburban taxi drivers to the pre-teen kids who swarm big city train stations, herding travelers to their employers’ guesthouses, everyone’s looking to make you a deal. And never is that more clear than during the elaborate sales dances of rug merchants.

Moroccan artists and craftspeople produce some of the world’s best leatherwork, tile art and ceramics, but most tourists come in search only of their hand woven carpets.
As a result, anywhere in Morocco that you’d feasibly find a tourist, you’ll find a carpet shop. But the real action is inside the old quarters of Fez and Marrakech. Most Moroccan cities have a medina—literally “city” in Arabic, but used popularly to refer to a town’s walled off historic district. Those in Fez and Marrakech, however, are the most famous, and they’re far more than tourist attractions. Locals cram the narrow alleyways that form these sprawling mazes, winding their way through markets and stalls hawking everything from ironwork to electronics. High walls separate the alleys and thatch coverings chop the sun into thin slivers of light, not only creating a haunting old-world ambiance but also further disorienting already confused newcomers.

These chaotic if enchanting surroundings overwhelmed my own senses, leaving me easy pray for rug salesmen who swooped in like chicken hawks. The best touts started by offering a place to rest and have tea. They waved us through deceptively tiny portals into cavernous sitting rooms, where the walls and floors were covered with all manner of rugs (the true prize carpets drape from the ceilings). Incense often hung in the air and, perhaps since we visited in the off-season, we were usually the only customers in the shop. So as we sat downing sweet green tea and puffing cigarettes it seemed as if we’d somehow beamed miles away from the pandemonium outside.

But this peace was fleeting. For just as I’d settle in, the sales pitch would heighten. Our host would flatteringly deem us more cultured than the typical tourist, earning us the right to view his secret stash of rugs—the ones he keeps just for their beauty, you see. Men would emerge from backrooms of what moments ago had seemed the solitary home of a kindly, aging man. Suddenly, we’d be swimming in rugs. One after another would unfurl at our feet. Stacks would form in our laps, at our sides. Finally, I’d mention how lovely one was, signaling the onset of the end game.

It always goes the same way. The salesman’s first move is to dismiss this whole money conversation as crass. He can save you both time, he’ll say, by offering the real price: Some whopping sum that is probably five or six times what the rug is worth. Your objections will greatly offend him. He’s Berber, he’ll note conspiratorially, not some cheating Arab. But since you’re obviously cultured, he’ll concede, here’s the price he offers his own brother: Another whopping sum that’s more like three or four times the rug’s worth. Intuitively, you’ll know you should be heading out the door, but you’ll feel bizarrely guilty about all that tea you drank. Plus, the dance is intoxicating, your hackles are up, and you are, after all, talking him way down off of his original price. Eventually, feeling somehow victorious, you’ll smugly hand over about twice what the rug’s worth.

But the mound of rugs I hauled out of Marrakech proved more useful than the money I spent on it would have been anyway. Because once you cross the High Atlas mountains and head towards the Sahara, all the money in the world won’t find you a well-heated hotel room. And, while no local hoteliers seemed to have considered it, the fact is it gets damn cold on a winter night in the dessert. My rugs quickly became extra blankets.

Travel half an hour outside of Marrakech and you’re in another world
. Morocco is cleanly divided by the High Atlas mountain range, which runs diagonal across the country’s midsection. To its north and west lie the imperial cities and coastal regions where the Arab world collides with southern Europe. To its south and east are the valleys that tumble into Algeria and the Sahara.

We rendezvoused with another couple in Marrakech, rented a car and plunged into the mountains for a two-day drive to the border. The only way through the mountains is essentially over the top, but the slow climb up slender roads that run along sharp cliffs is worth it. Women lugging bundles of kindling larger than themselves slowly disappear, until there’s scant sign of life. When you finally emerge from the snowcapped peaks, you hit a lunar landscape—known as the hammada—that stretches to the horizon in every direction. It’s an intimidating view. But we were on a mission: We were going to ride camels into the Sahara and watch the sunrise over the Algerian border.

Unexpected flashes of life break up an otherwise tedious marathon to the Sahara. There’s the sleepy town Aït Benhaddou, which filmmakers put on the map by shooting Lawrence of Arabia and Jesus of Nazareth there, among other movies. As a result of those productions, it boasts one of the regions’ most well-maintained kasbahs—the uniquely Islamic garrisons that feudal royalties erected as symbols of their might. Or there’s El-Kelaâ M’Gouna, a town entirely dedicated to the production of rose water. Factories harvest roses to churn out creams, soaps, and perfumes as well as the water itself, which folks in the know told us could be used as anything ranging from a baking ingredient to some sort of medicinal eye drop.

But for us these stops were but prelude. Our treasure waited in Merzouga—the last real outpost of civilization before the Sahara completely takes over. It’s the kind of place the guidebooks warn you against striking out for without a 4-wheel-drive and someone who knows the area. So we spent the night in the closest town, Erfoud, and hired someone to direct us the next morning. When we got up in the pre-dawn hours, however, we discovered Mahktar, our guide, had no vehicle, which put us in the absurd position of inching our economy class Puegot down barely discernable paths in the dessert. Mahktar sat in the passenger seat giving dubious play by play directions through the still pitch black night—cut a little to the left to avoid an upcoming crater, speed up here to keep from getting stuck in the sand ahead, slow down for the jagged rocks in this stretch.

During tourist season, the few miles worth of dunes near Marzouga would be swamped with silly-looking travelers like ourselves, hobbling along in herds, a guide leading them just far enough out so that they could legitimately claim to have ventured camel-back into the dessert. But on a frigid November morning, we were the only tourists stupid enough, or cheap enough, to be there. And the solitude was just enough to convince me of our adventure’s authenticity. As the sun rises over Algeria it brings the sand dunes to a colorful life, casting them in orange and red shades that gradually melt into a golden brown. It’s an entirely peaceful scene, unnerving in its contrast with the images most Westerners have come to hold of the territory that stretched beyond our view.

Our trip out of the Sahara resembled a desperate sprint more than anything else. I was literally thirsty for green, and when we hit the southwestern coast I imagined I knew what lost sea captains felt when they spotted land. As we traveled up the shore, passing a string of white beaches sitting below plush green cliffs, Morocco once again took a completely new form. The beach houses and crashing waves resembled coastal California more than they did the imperial cities or dessert towns we’d already visited.

Sitting beachside in Essaouira—an increasingly popular windsurfers’ and artists’ enclave—it was hard to imagine the baron, rocky terrain we’d tackled just days before. Ramadan had just begun, and the beach was throbbing with more of those young, nubile and scantily-clad boys, now playing soccer, horsing about and generally taking advantage of the holiday spirit. As the sun slowly set, anticipation built. Dusk arrived and the beach suddenly cleared of all life, leaving us sole Christians and a couple of stray dogs to ponder the coming nightfall. The boys were off for a night of feasting and partying, Ramadan’s nightly antidote to the day’s hardship of fasting—moving in a blink from abstention to indulgence. It seemed a ritual tailor made for Morocco.

Love, Sex and Religion–Murder in Muslim Morocco

December 2004
Updated June 2007

by Richard Ammon
A Gracious Man and a Fatal Mistake

My friend George (pictured right) was murdered in Morocco last year, stabbed multiple times by an enraged assailant who escaped the scene immediately after. Three weeks later the police captured the culprit, a young Arab Muslim man who was wearing George’s ring and his wallet in a back pocket. The motive, said the police, was robbery. I think not.

More probably, George hadn’t fulfilled his part of a ‘deal’ with Mustapha, his killer. The deal didn’t involve drugs or contraband or simply money, despite the robbery-face police put on the killing.

No, the deal was more subtle, more layered. It had to do with ‘sex and consequences’ and George made the mistake of overlooking some things as time went on and he and Mustafa became more intimate.

An educated American from California, a teacher, a film and theatre critic and a writer, George was well known and respected in London and El Jadida, an ancient town on Morocco’s Atlantic west coast. He moved to Morocco about eleven years ago, as had many European and American artists and writers throughout the twentieth century, (Baron von Gloeden, Oscar Wilde, André Gide, Paul Bowles and Jane Auer among them) after succumbing to the ambisexual mystique that seethed in the beautiful dark eyes of younger Arab men. It was said of the famous Polish classical composer Carl Szymanowski after his first visit, “he found the uninhibited southern climate to be psychologically liberating and, thereby, an inspiration to his life and work as an artist.”

Romantic, sunny, sensual, mysterious and clandestine–north Africa’s secrets have teased the minds of countless men from the north and from the west for centuries. Whether artist or merchant, whether for sex or love, for inspiration or solitude, for the jumble of the medina scents or the endless sands…life in Muslim Arab Africa for “outcast’ men (as Wilde called himself) is the antidote to materialistic sexually up-tight-white-western-puritan life.

For countless lesser-known men who today wander to the southern shores of the Mediterranean that same allure continues unchanged like the phases of the moon: poor but handsome Muslim men and boys willing to offer themselves to the fantasy lullabies of foreigners in exchange for their own dreams of money or escape.

And that is where the danger lurks.

George knew well the arrangement but he did not know Mustapha, not well enough–less than a year. Previous relationships had turned out well as George served as mentor, godfather, financial benefactor, personal advisor, education provider and job finder in return for the occasional sweet affections of his protégés. When it came time, inevitably, for the young man to marry George became the friendly ‘uncle’ and was received as part of the family. So it had been for many years and George was a contented man with friends and loved ones. With Mustapha, aged 24, another young life was being nurtured and advanced by George, balanced by the younger man’s compliance, What went wrong?

Arranged Matches
Sex between an ‘outsider’ and a native Muslim Arab is often a bargain, a deal, not a gift of pleasure or expression of feelings–usually. George was very aware of this and didn’t get lost in his own emotions for his paramours. For his part, he returned much more than he received. In exchange for an occasional night together the swarthy younger one had his life changed.

Such was the arrangement with strikingly handsome Mustapha with the hazel eyes and who aspired to be an actor. To his mind, I believe, George was his ticket to fame and opportunity since George had friends and acquaintances in the starry world of film and theatre. Most likely, there were candlelight conversations between them where visions and dreams were voiced–very likely without promises. George knew better than to offer the moon. We can’t know what he really said or what Mustapha expected but over time Mustapha’s imagination collided with the reality of George’s limits. He did not know enough right people and could not put Mustapha’s name in lights. An argument ensued, voices were raised, fury overtook Mustapha and steel flashed. In panic and disbelief Mustapha took what he could–a few items of immediate token value.

Risky Liaisons

I tell this sad tale to make a tragic point: Muslim religion/culture is toxic to non-marital sex, toxic to men who have sex with men (and women with women), toxic to those who love others of their own gender–toxic to the truth of sexual attraction. Consentual sex among Arab Muslim men and foreign guys—in this case an experienced and self identified gay man who knew what gay love was—is a high risk game. George paid with his life but more often it’s the heart that is injured.

And it’s hypocritical: across the vast spread of Muslim masculinity, from Morocco to India, it is well known that premarital young men have sex with each other because it’s an age-old tradition and since women are mostly forbidden to them. A woman’s virginity is a badge of family honor at the time of her marriage.

It’s also well known that such widespread homo-sex is vehemently denied and refuted in public. Absurd displays of ‘justice’ against the ‘abomination’ include toppling walls, stoning to death, beheading or imprisonment. Much more common are blackmail by police, punishing glares and cold shoulders that induce shame and guilt. Rejection from one’s family is perhaps the worst penalty. By such cruelty, it is alleged, the purity of Islamic law and Arab cultural norms are self-righteously maintained.

Western gay men say such killing, maiming, jailing or discarding of men for the acts of homosexual pleasure or love is a profound violation of human nature and social justice.

Equally profound, such enmity defiles the gay spirit that strives to live in the hearts of LGBT Muslims worldwide. On countless gay Muslim chat sites there is anguish, guilt, shame and much fear of family discovery–as there is for many LGBT Christians or Jews. The astringent prohibitions of Islam on the naturalness, tenderness and truthfulness of gay love and same-sex desire are heartless. Countless LGBT Muslims live in high anxiety and dark closets ashamed of their inner truth. It is very difficult for them to transcend this blog of fear and loathing

A Caveat
It’s always difficult to delineate the behavior of a minority of people without unintentionally intruding on the reality of the majority. In contrast to the forbidding description of Muslim sexuality here, this writer is very aware of the ‘progressive’ Muslim movement that is gaining momentum in numerous countries. As considerate Muslim devotees, progressives are not homophobic and not anti-Semitic. They are pro-choice and urge equality among genders. Among these open-minded Muslims are genuinely loving gay and lesbian couples and singles (although virtually invisible to outsiders). I do not refer to them here. I also do not refer to men who enjoy casual gay sex with no exchange of money; there are many bisexual Muslim men who are prosperous and would be insulted if sex-money were part of the moment. Nor do I refer to genuinely gay Muslims who need to sell sex with other men as a means of support. At least they are being real about their desire even if their motives are mercenary.

No, I refer here to another sort of sexual creature.

Star-crossed Haters
Out of the quagmire of doubled-crossed sexual feelings and cash schemes comes an unwelcome player—a non-gay Muslim guy who cruises gay non-Muslim men using deceptive homosexual behavior. An impoverished and probably love-starved native, hostile to gay sex, uses it to entice and exploit queer men’s sincere desire for intimacy. Gay sex for sale by a straight man. A liar selling lies.

(Was Mustapha really gay or one of these pretenders? I suspect he was both. By killing George was he trying to kill his own homosexual impulses? Was he seeking revenge against his own absent father who preferred to spend time with other men smoking in a café than with his family? Such questions now seem moot, now that both lives have been lost.)

Mustapha was raised to disgust homosexuality but was driven to it by his sex drive and a craving for money. It’s not likely the young man fully desired George (in his sixties) to be his lover but he was certainly a benign father figure as well as an appealing cash source and a hoped-for ticket out of the country—strong enough motives for Mustapha to keep George in his sights and ‘put out’ on occasion. Mustapha’s affectations toward George were sincere enough to lull George into forgetting, over time, to watch the youth carefully until he proved his truth. George was lulled into forgetting what the deal really was, exposing his very real Achilles’ heel for youthful male beauty; in hindsight he didn’t stand a chance against this pretty boy with foul motives.

Foolish Liaison
My own brush with the antagonism that lies beneath Muslim gay sex was far less hazardous than George’s. A friend and I were cruised one evening after dinner as we walked along the harbor in Essaouria. It was less of a cruise than it was verbal badgering by two young natives very intent on taking us back to their place for “what you like”. Their insistent chatter was about sex, about their being students, about how we liked Morocco and about more sex—the usual clap that passes for talk between people who do not know or trust each other. Nevertheless, the young cruisers were attractive enough to be acceptable. Their words were erotic and seductive.

My friend and I are not tightly prudish (although usually cautious) so we let ourselves be led to the home of one of the guys who sneaked us into a ground floor room; his nervousness about keeping very quiet made us uneasy. I presumed his family was asleep in the other rooms. In the dark we fumbled around and felt body parts until the sleaziness of the situation (and the realization that these guys were probably not homos) finally flattened any desire we had. We got dressed (did we undress at all?) and headed out into the warm night air and the dim street. They wanted money of course, as we expected.

Since we hadn’t anticipated this pickup we had little cash on us. We gave them most of what we had which obviously wasn’t enough, not what they expected from two white tourists (although probably more than they could make for a week’s work.) Upset and argumentative, they pressed us to go back and get more money from our hotel room. We argued back that no price had been set and we had no more money in our pockets. They followed us, bickering and complaining but held back as we approached the entrance of our hotel and the manager came out to greet us. He immediately sensed the situation and shouted at the kids to go away and ushered us inside.

We felt relieved and foolish a for getting into that situation. Although a little nervous we had not been too worried as we were both bigger than they were. It didn’t occur to us that they might have had a weapon—even more foolish. The unfriendly exchange reminded me, again, of gay mens’ vulnerability to the lure of sex from enticing swarthy strangers here, and it reawakened my awareness of the edgy, insincere, hormone-and-money-driven motives that drive these young men to offer phony sex to pale-faced visitors.

Betrayal of Homosexuality
Thinking back on that night and other seductive attempts by non-gay natives (it happened four times during a visit to Morocco and several times in Egypt) and thinking about George, I feel an (unexpected) sense of resentment toward these street seducers. Although I feel some sympathy for their plight (as I’m sure George did) they do commit an ‘offense’—and are no doubt unaware of it.

For more than a generation we in the west have fought (and died) to gain recognition and validation of our form of same-sex life and love. In the 21st century it is still an uphill battle against bigotry including recent anti-gay marriage amendments that passed in a dozen states in America. Love and its close affiliate sexual arousal (gay or straight) are both highly vulnerable states of being which, between two respectful adults, should be treated with mutual respect and satisfying responses. Often it’s not.

Over my lifetime, living fortunately within a highly developed LGBT culture, I know the truth and profoundness of my homosexually oriented love and erotic desires. I have developed dignity and appreciation for my own queer feelings and for those of my LGBT brothers and sisters who move through similar sentient states. Many modern queer folks subscribe to this affirmation and a healthy sub-cultural ‘norm’ guides our behavior and anticipates others’ or suspicious but vulnerable—non-Arab homosexual men.

Such faux homosexual behavior is offensive to what we have worked hard to validate. These are straight homophobes ‘abusing’ gay men with deceptive sexuality. Sex with other men, for them, is a hollow bargain with no appeal or affection. They offer feeble genital manipulation and demand dollars in return. What should be an intimate mutual give-and-take exchange is shot through with hypocrisy, lying and pretense.

I realize that much the same can be said about prostitution in general and across thousands of years and hundreds of cultures. But I think there is a difference between heterosexuality and homosexuality passion for sale and who’s peddling it. The vast majority of ‘sellers’ are hetero women (and some men) who seduce hetero johns (or janes) for ‘authentic’ sex. At least they are truthful to their sexual orientation.

But a whole cadre of hetero Muslim men engage in what they feel is forbidden sex, betraying themselves as well as homo men’s desire. They are contemptuous of gay men’s vulnerabilities. They abuse our affections with hollow affectations that can turn quickly into hostility when the price is not right.

Whatever the details of George’s demise, I believe he was betrayed by a confused young soul lost in the cross-currents of his own poverty, sexual desire and religious dogma.

From El Jadida Online, ntières (RSF), Paris for gay outing editor
from Afrol news

December 31, 2003

Arrest of the murderer of an American expat in El Jadida

It was confirmed, by highly placed sources close to the enquiry, that members of the Police Investigations Branch of El Jadida have succeeded in solving the killing, which was carried out for gain, of the American expat George Waldo by arresting the murderer who also confessed to the murder of a French expat in Agadir. The murderer, Mustapha Hamrane, aged 24, who was arrested on Wednesday late morning by members of the Criminal Division of the Police Investigations Branch made a detailed confession concerning the murder of the American expat as well as that of a French expat, which occurred back in 2001 in Agadir.

The American expat, aged 70, a retired university professor and resident in Morocco for 11 years, was stabbed to death in his own home, on the 8th December last. An investigation was immediately launched, ending some 20 days later in the arrest of the murderer. According to the highest placed sources of the enquiry, Hamrane, who did not have a criminal record, acted alone and the motive for both crimes was theft. The circumstances of both murders were similar and both had sex as their basis. Confronted with several pieces of evidence, some of which were goods belonging to Waldo (a watch, a mobile phone and rings) found in his possession, the murderer confessed to the 2 crimes in minute detail.

He admitted that he knew the victims, with whom he had had "intimate relations", and that both the crimes were premeditated. The main lead which allowed the investigating team of the Police Investigations Branch of El Jadida to identify the killer was the withdrawal, using a cheque and aided by the presentation of a false ID card, by the murderer of 20,000DH from the victim’s account. The murderer has been remanded to the Superior Division of the Appeals Court of El Jadida charged with 2 premeditated murders, as well as assault and battery, using a knife, against 2 girls in 2001 in Agadir.

June 3, 2004

Editor of ‘Akhbar al-Ousbouaâ’ newspaper sentenced to six months in prison for "defamation"

Anas Tadili, editor of the weekly ‘Akhbar al-Ousbouaâ’, has been sentenced to six months in prison for "defamation". The editor in April had published an article detailing alleged homosexual sex of a Moroccan Minister at a holiday resort in Morocco. According to reports from the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), a Rabat court this week sentenced Mr Tadili to six months in prison with no parole. He was earlier charged with "defamation, vilification of a government official and spreading false news".

Mr Tadili, who has been jailed in Salé’s prison since April 15, was also sentenced to 10 months in prison with no parole on separate charges, and is scheduled to be tried on further defamation charges on June 15, according to RSF. On April 9, Mr Tadili’s newspaper had published an article entitled "Homosexuality and the political class in Morocco", detailing the homosexual adventures of a government minister at a holiday resort in northern Morocco.

The article was questioning the morality of the Minister. While homosexuality is widely practiced in Morocco – in particular in holiday resorts, where men-to-men encounters are openly displayed – it remains a social taboo and is generally considered bad moral. Though the government official was not named in the ‘Akhbar al-Ousbouaâ’ article, the story was clearly aimed at the Minister of Finance, who, in turn, reportedly pressured the Justice Minister to jail the ‘Akhbar al-Ousbouaâ’ editor.

On the morning of April 15, Mr Tadili was arrested after being summoned to Rabat police headquarters for a legal matter dating back to 1994. He was ordered to pay an on-the-spot fine of three million dirhams (approximately euro 270,000) for evading foreign exchange regulations, and when he was unable to come up with the funds, he was incarcerated. In 1994, the editor had been charged with evading foreign exchange regulations after opening an account abroad. He received a six-month suspended sentence and a three-million dirham fine, but appealed the ruling. In 2001, the ruling was confirmed by the Appeals Court.

Since Mr Tadili had never paid this fine, his detention on April 15 was expedited without difficulty, and he was later sentenced to 10 months in prison with no parole. The defamation complaint that followed the publication of the April 9, 2004 article was only filed after Mr Tadili’s incarceration. RSF in an earlier statement had expressed the group was "extremely concerned" over the abrupt imprisonment of Mr Tadili. The Paris group in April said it feared Mr Tadili "may have been detained for an article published in his newspaper, and that the arrest was in fact the result of political pressure."

Morocco Times

March 6, 2006

Sex Scandal–Gay porno network sentenced to 30 years in prison

by Karima Rhanem
The Marrakech court of first instance sentenced on Friday night a group of 13 people involved in making homosexual pornographic films in the southern city to a total of 30 years imprisonment, ranging from 6 months to 6 years in prison for each of the defendants, reported the Moroccan partisan daily, al-Alam. The Marrakech court sentenced 13 defendants including 11 Moroccans and two French, and acquitted four others, involved in the pornographic scandal that shook the southern city. The defendants have also to pay fines ranging from MAD 1,000 to MAD 30,000.
The group is accused of producing gay pornographic films, inciting prostitution, and holding drugs.

MAP news agency reported that the court has sentenced the main defendant in the sex scandal case, J.A, a French national of Moroccan descent to six years in prison and a fine of MAD 30,000. The court has also sentenced J.J.R, a French tradesman to one year in prison. It acquitted another Frenchman, manager of a guest house in Marrakech, but decided to close his establishment. The majority of the defendants (performers in the films), arrested on Feb. 17, came from a popular neighborhood located at Sidi Youssef Ben Ali prefecture. Aged between 18 and 20, these impoverished Moroccans found themselves involved in a very dirty adventure, risking their reputation for a very insignificant sum of money and a promise of immigration to France. They were only paid MAD 500 each a film. Others got MAD 250 for helping shoot in a sports club, which is considered very insignificant money in the porn industry.

The films were broadcast in an Internet site, which has about 500 members, who pay a monthly tuition fee of Euros 42. The porn production company, which runs the website, earns more than Euro 20,000 a month. The site is now inaccessible in Morocco, after being blocked by the Moroccan authorities. The Wali of Marrakech, Mounir Chraïbi, held an extraordinary meeting with different departments and the city council to investigate the matter. He declared that all the necessary measures have been taken to combat the phenomenon of sexual tourism in Marrakech. Earlier last week, several local associations in Marrakech staged a sit-in before the city’s court of first instance to denounce sex tourism.

01 August 2007

Moroccan group voices women’s demands in upcoming elections

by Imane Belhaj for Magharebia in Casablanca
The Social Movement for Equality and Citizenship, a movement established by the Democratic League for Women’s Rights in Morocco, has put forth a new project in which it calls on Moroccan women to vote responsibly during the coming legislative elections and to defend their demands. The movement named the project, which receives support from the Fund for Supporting Equality between the Sexes, the "Responsible Citizen Project".
During a press conference held Friday (July 27th) in Casablanca, League President Fouzia Assouli said the project arose out of women’s critical need to elevate their situation, especially illiterate or rural women who still lack many rights and necessities, circumstances which further degrade their social and economic position.

The project—which was presented to components of civil society, unions and political parties in the hopes that it would be incorporated into those groups’ electoral programmes for the September 7th elections—voices a number of basic economic, social and legal demands that would benefit women. The legal demands call for adherence to international standards protecting women from discrimination, exclusion and violence; putting in place the Social Solidarity Fund stipulated under the new family law to benefit women divorcees and their children, the enforcement of alimony rulings; and the adoption of stricter laws to combat violence against women.

The project’s social and economic demands call for reducing unemployment among women by preparing them to enter the labour market; offering low-interest loans and marketing assistance to women contractors in order to increase the successfulness of their projects; combating poverty and marginalisation among women; incorporating traditionally female professions into the labour law; establishing day care programmes for the children of working women; and creating a fund to support women’s co-operatives. The project also calls for mandatory education for girls, the levying of fines against those who prevent girls from attending school, universal reproductive health services to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and death during childbirth and resources to fight illiteracy. Assouli said the Responsible Citizen Project is expanding its reach into more remote regions of Morocco by way of the Democratic League for Women’s Rights’ annual convoys and through its experience at the League’s centres for combating illiteracy as well as centres for counselling, legal guidance and psychological support located in a dozen regions of Morocco.

"It is no longer acceptable in our modern Morocco for us to see the backwardness and problems that Moroccan women still experience," Assouli told Magharebia. "For the poverty rate among women is at 19.2%, and more than 52% of the urban poor are women as are 50% of the rural poor. The illiteracy rate among women in remote rural areas exceeds 90%. Additionally, there is the absence of protection against economic, social, psychological and physical violence. Thus, the league decided to urge women to join together in defending their legitimate demands. I consider the coming elections pivotal in pressing for these demands, which empower [women] to surmount difficult conditions and assume an active part in human development and democracy building."

The Social Movement for Equality and Citizenship is organising meetings and convoys in cities and rural areas to inform the public about their programme. The group is also preparing to distribute audiotapes in 14 regions, containing the text of its demands in all Arabic and Amazigh dialects.

Radio Netherlands Worldwide

16 August 2007

Gay defence school

by Marcel Decraene and Floris Dogterom
A growing number of homosexual men in the Netherlands feel unsafe on the streets as a result of the increasing violence against gays. During the yearly Gay Pride weekend in Amsterdam several gay men were beaten up. In The Hague the blows struck home, too. However, a countermovement is in the making. Instead of being beaten up without doing anything about it, several gays are following a self-defence course. One of the motivated students is Theo Gommel, who comments: "When it comes to the crunch and I find myself in a situation where I have to fight, I won’t run. I will fight. Through this course I want to learn how to." Gommel has never been beaten up on account of his sexual orientation, but the fact remains that the number of reports of violent incidents against gays is on the rise. Ellie Lust, president of the gay network ‘Pink in Blue’ of the Amsterdam-Amstelland police force, handles the interpretation of the figures with care.

After all, the increasing number of reports doesn’t necessarily mean that the number of violent incidents is on the rise. Victims might report incidents sooner than before, as a result of the media attention to assaults against gays. The Amsterdam police, however, do have a clear image of the perpetrators. Ellie Lust says: "Generally speaking they are young men aged between 15 and 25 years. The majority of the perpetrators have a Moroccan background. About three quarters of them perpetrators are immigrants, the rest are Dutch." Course instructor Gilbert Themen, himself a heterosexual man of Surinamese descent and a police officer by profession, explains why he is holding the course: "What’s happening today with homosexuals is really bad. I have got the techniques to help them defend themselves."

Baseball bat
The Amsterdam police welcome the initiative and value gay men learning how to defend themselves. At the same time, Ellie Lust of the gay network ‘Pink in Blue’ sends out a warning: "According to the law, you may defend yourself and your belongings when you are attacked, but it goes without saying that the proportionality principle remains valid. Which means that if somebody punches you in the face, you’re not supposed to beat his brains in with a baseball bat."

Frank van Dalen, chairman of the Dutch national gay organisation COC feels it’s a pity that the courses are necessary. "But they are, because there is increased violence against gay men. I think these courses can help build a renewed self-confidence. Many gay men in the scene are looking for ways to feel safer on the streets. One of the ways is to follow these self-defence courses.

27 November 2007

Hundreds protest turning Morocco into a "brothel", Moroccan "bride" jailed for gay wedding

Dubai ( – A wedding for a well-known gay man in Morocco ended with the colorful ‘bride’ behind bars, along with five other wedding guests, and sparked riots and calls for authorities to clamp down on gays in Moroccan society. The Court of First Instance in the northern city of Al-Qasr Al-Kabir, where the wedding took place, handed down jail sentences to six people who participated in the lavish wedding ceremony, including the ‘bride’, Fouad, a well-known gay man who sells alcohol for a living. The identity of the groom is still unknown, press reports said Monday, but a full investigation is underway. The wedding, attended by scores of gays and lesbians, lasted two days and had many elements of a traditional Moroccan wedding. The ‘bride,’ adorned with jewelry and full facial makeup, wore a green gown with a golden belt. His head was covered with a white scarf. For the second day’s celebrations, which featured a musical performance, he changed into a yellow cloak.

A black bull – one of the gifts to the newlyweds – was slain to the celebratory sounds of cheers and ululations. Afterwards, the ‘bride’ knelt, filled his glass with the bull’s blood, and drank it, one of the guests reported. But the ‘bride’ turned himself into police after he was caught and beaten by protestors, the Moroccan newspaper Al-Tajdeed reported. More than 600 men and women took to the streets, chanting slogans condemning the city’s leniency towards homosexuals and criticizing the couple’s audacity to hold a gay wedding in the open. An MP for the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), Saeed Khairoun, said the wedding signaled the disintegration of Muslim values and was a flagrant violation of the society’s traditions. He called on the government to "combat those want to turn Morocco to a brothel."

Moroccan gays were recently allowed to found their own organization, which demands equal rights for homosexuals and aims to combat all forms of discrimination. According to article 489 of the Moroccan Penal Code, homosexuality is illegal and is punishable by six months to three years in jail and a fine of 120 to 1,200 dirhams (15 to 155 dollars). But the law is rarely enforced, and the sight of gay couples has become fairly common, especially in cities with large European expatriate communities like Tangiers, Marrakech, and Agadir.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).

December 17, 2007

Six Men in Morocco Sentenced to Prison for ‘Homosexual Conduct’

by Duane Wells
Criminal verdicts in Morocco against six men sentenced to prison for homosexual conduct should be set aside and the men released, the Human Rights Watch said in a press release. A court in Ksar el-Kbir, a small city about 120 kilometers south of Tangiers, convicted the men on December 10 of violating article 489 of Morocco’s penal code, which criminalizes “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex.” However, according to lawyers for the defendants, the prosecution failed to present any evidence that the men actually had engaged in the prohibited conduct in the first place.

“These men are behind bars for private acts between consenting adults that no government has any business criminalizing in the first place,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The men’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression have been violated, and the court has convicted them without apparent evidence; they should be set free.”

The men have been in jail since they were first arrested by the police between November 23 and 25, 2007, after a video circulated online—including on YouTube—purporting to show a private party, allegedly including the men, taking place in Ksar el-Kbir on November 18. Press reports claimed the party was a “gay marriage.” Following the arrests, hundreds of men and women marched through the streets of Ksar el-Kbir, denouncing the men’s alleged actions and calling for their punishment. Abdelaziz Nouaydi, a Rabat lawyer on the men’s defense team, said that the judge convicted the men even though the prosecution presented no evidence showing that an act violating Article 489 had occurred and offered only the video as evidence. According the defense attorneys, rhe video showed no indications of sexual activity and the men all pleaded innocent to offenses under the article, which has a statute of limitation of five years. At the trial, adding insult to injury, the judge refused to release the men provisionally pending their appeals.

Criminalizing consensual, adult homosexual conduct violates human rights protection in international law, said Human Rights Watch. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Morocco has ratified, bars interference with the right to privacy. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has condemned laws against consensual homosexual conduct as violations of the ICCPR. Moreover, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has held that arrests for consensual homosexual conduct are, by definition, human rights violations. In the preamble to its constitution, Morocco “subscribes to the principles, rights, and obligations” consequent on its membership in organizations including the United Nations “and reaffirms its attachment to human rights as they are universally recognized.”

The court sentenced three defendants to six months in prison and two defendants to four months; it sentenced the sixth, who it also convicted of the unauthorized sale of alcohol, to 10 months. The defendants range in age from 20 to 61 years old. In a private letter to Moroccan Justice Minister Abdelwahed Radi before the trial, Human Rights Watch urged the government to drop the charges and release the men. The letter also urged authorities to ensure the men’s physical safety, in light of the large and menacing mass demonstrations that took place against them. “In applying an unjust law in an unjust fashion, the Ksar el-Kbir court has fueled the forces of intolerance in Morocco,” said Whitson. “If Morocco truly aspires to be a regional leader on human rights, it should lead the way in decriminalizing homosexual conduct.”

Gay City News

December 20, 2007

Homo Witch Hunt in Morocco

by Doug Ireland
Amid media hysteria and large and riotous anti-gay demonstrations in Morocco, six men whom prosecutors claimed participated in a "gay marriage" have been convicted of violating that country’s law against homosexual conduct and sent to prison.
The drama, which attracted huge national media coverage- in large measure of an hysterically anti-gay character – took place last month in Ksar El Kébir, a largely impoverished city of more than 100,000 halfway between Tangier and the nation’s capital of Rabat, and which is dominated politically by the principal Islamist party, the Party of Justice and Development, popular among Morocco’s economically deprived majority. According to the feisty Moroccan French-language weekly magazine Tel Quel, noted for its progressive views, "All began when F., a local celebrity known for his sales of alcohol, organized a private party on November 19 in a house in the Hay Diwan neighborhood, habitually reserved for celebrations of marriage…F. ‘has the reputation of a libertine whose comings and goings are spied on by the local population,’ a local source told us, ‘and his party did not go unnoticed.’

"The party had a special aspect: it resembled a ritual ceremony, with gnaoua entertainment and a man disguised as a woman on the dance floor," wrote Tel Quel. (The gnaouas are a Moroccan Sufi brotherhood, descendants of black slaves who mingle music and dance in a way that leads to a trance-like state. They fascinated gay writers like Paul Bowles, Brian Gysin, and William Burroughs as well as the Rolling Stones, who in the 1970s incorporated several gnaoua songs they considered "music to get high by" into their recordings.) "The day after the party, anger spread throughout the city as the rumor spread like wildfire that a ‘homosexual marriage’ had been organized the night before," continued Tel Quel. "There was a chain reaction when a video of the party was quickly posted on YouTube, and on November 21 a petition was published calling for ‘the opening of an official investigation into the celebration of a homosexual marriage’" in Ksar El Kébir, according to Tel Quel.

The petition was signed not only by the Party of Justice and Development and numerous local associations, but, surprisingly, also by the local chapter of the national human rights group, the Association Marocaine des Droits Humains (ADMH). Much of Morocco’s daily press, in publicizing the petition, deployed huge scare headlines denouncing the "Homosexual Marriage at Ksar El Kébir," and the following Friday – an Islamic day of prayer – after incendiary sermons were preached in the city’s mosques, a riotous crowd of Islamist fundamentalists, estimates of whose size vary from 6,000 to 13,000, marched to the house where the supposed "gay marriage" had been held, and attempted to ransack a supposedly gay-owned jewelry store in the center city along the way. A video shows that some of the demonstrators carried rifles.

"There was a distinct difference in tone between the French-language press, which is read by the educated elites, and the Arab-language press, which is read by the mass of the working and poorer classes," Catherine Graciet, a French journalist who has reported extensively from Morocco, told this reporter by telephone from Paris. (Graciet is co-author of an excellent book published in Paris earlier this year, "Quand le Maroc Sera Islamiste" (éditions La Découverte), which translates as "When Morocco Becomes Islamist"). "The French-language press was fairly neutral in reporting the events, and even a bit disdainful of the popular hysteria around the so-called ‘wedding,’ saying that such matters are about people’s private lives – but the Arab-language press poured oil on the fire and was wildly anti-homosexual in tone," Graciet said. She added, "One of the worst of those whipping up anti-gay sentiment was the columnist Rachid Nini in the Arab-language daily Al Massaa, which he founded – it’s normally a good and serious newspaper but with some very conservative columnists, but in his inflamed denunciations of homosexuals Nini, who is also the paper’s directeur (boss), was saying what majority public opinion believes."

The inflammatory press coverage was exemplified by a November 28 report in the Islamist fundamentalist newspaper Atajdid under the headline "ANTI-HOMOSEXUAL INTIFADA IN KSAR EL KÉBIR." According to the newspaper, "At most of the Friday prayers, the imams of Ksar el Kébir mosques addressed the issue of sodomy , homosexuality, and lesbianism. Ahmad Aljabarri, the imam of Vad Al Makhazin mosque, which turned into the convergence point for demonstrators coming from different mosques in the city, was very frank about the gay marriage, and said that if the wrongs and misdeeds are not corrected, a big torment will be sent down [by God]. He said the homosexual behavior will shake the heavens. Then he broke into tears.

"The congregation’s facial gestures, and the way they shook their heads [in agreement], demonstrated how they are ashamed, and rightfully so, which motivated them to start a demonstration upon their departure from the mosque, to express their anger. They chanted, ‘We don’t care about money, our honor is the most important thing,’ and recited religious prayers, demanding the authorities prosecute the gays and ask God’s forgiveness for their sins. … According to some estimates by members of the police, some 13,000 people were marching on the streets, who were joined by a group of 600 young people coming from the north…. The emotion among demonstrators was so high that the security forces, who were monitoring the rally, were not able to control them. When the crowd reached the jewelry store belonging to a prominent man in the city who is known among the people of the city to extend financial and moral support to homosexuals, they tried to attack the business, but the iron gates made their repeated attempts a failure," the newspaper Atajdid concluded.

The following Wednesday, there was another anti-gay demonstration in Ksar el Kébir of 1,000 people led by the Party of Justice and Development. The six men arrested have remained imprisoned since they were first detained by the police at some point between November 23 and 25. In a summary trial held by a "court of first instance" in Ksar el Kébir, the men were found guilty of violating article 489 of Morocco’s penal code, which criminalizes "lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex." The court sentenced three defendants to six months in prison and two defendants to four months; it sentenced the sixth, whom it also convicted of the unauthorized sale of alcohol, to 10 months.

Abdelaziz Nouaydi, a Rabat lawyer on the men’s defense team, told Human Rights Watch staffers that the judge convicted the men even though the prosecution presented no evidence showing that behavior violating Article 489 had occurred, offering the video of the party as the only evidence. The video included no indications of sexual activity. The six defendants all pleaded innocent to offenses under the article. At the trial, the judge refused to release the men provisionally pending their appeals. "These men are behind bars for private acts between consenting adults that no government has any business criminalizing in the first place," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The men’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression have been violated, and the court has convicted them without apparent evidence; they should be set free."

Asked for a comment on the Ksar el Kébir affair, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) told Gay City News it did not have enough information to make a statement at this time. Part of the video used in the trial of the Ksar el Kébir Six may be seen at THIS LINK, along with footage of an anti-gay demonstration attacking the house where the supposed "homosexual marriage" took place.


15 January 2008

Morocco court upholds jail for 6 for homosexual acts

Rabat (Reuters) – A Moroccan appeal court on Tuesday upheld the convictions of six men jailed for homosexual acts after video images of a man dressed as a woman dancing at a party sparked street protests and a police investigation, lawyers said. The six were arrested in late November after rumours spread that a party they had held in the northern town of Ksar el Kebir was really an illegal gay wedding. The national press pounced on the story, and Islamist groups condemned what they saw as an attack on public morals and demanded an official investigation. Hundreds of angry residents marched through Ksar el Kebir to demand "justice" and put pressure on the authorities to hand out harsh sentences.

The six men were found guilty and given jail sentences by a lower court last month. They had all pleaded not guilty. The appeal court upheld a 10-month sentence against the party’s alleged organiser, identified as F., for homosexuality and the illegal sale of alcohol, defence lawyer Mohamed Sebbar said. The five others had their jail terms cut to between two and four months from between four and six months, he said. All six had pleaded not guilty to the charges.

"It’s a very severe judgment because this case is empty," said Sebbar. "There is no proof that these men practised homosexuality in the affair of Ksar el Kebir."

"Lewd or unnatural acts" between people of the same sex are crimes under Moroccan law and those found guilty face between six months and three years in jail and a fine of up to 1,000 Moroccan dirhams ($130). Amnesty International said it considered the men to be prisoners of conscience and called for their immediate release. "We’re also concerned for their safety," said Amnesty’s Benedicte Goderiaux. "Some of them should get out of prison within about 15 days — what will happen to them after all the public threats against them?" (Reporting by Tom Pfeiffer and Zakia Abdennebi; editing by Tim Pearce)

15 February 2008

Morocco’s family code has received a positive assessment

by Sarah Touahri for Magharebia in Rabat
Four years after its introduction, Morocco’s family code has received a positive assessment from the justice ministry. At a conference held Monday (February 11th) in Rabat, Minister of Justice Abdelwahed Radi said the family code has brought with it a number of advances, ensuring that both men and women can enjoy their full rights and dignity.
"It maintains balance in the family," Radi said, "and encourages reconciliation rather than divorce."

According to ministry data, the number of marriages increased by 9% in 2007 compared with 2006, reaching 300,000, whilst the number of divorces decreased: 27,900 cases, giving a slight fall of 1.19%. Divorce by mutual consent, one of the new features to be found in the family law, accounted for nearly 30% of cases in 2007. This kind of divorce indicates the willingness to separate on good terms, which is greatly beneficial to families with children. Changes made under the code have allowed more women to initiate divorce proceedings. As a result, there were 26,547 applications for divorce by women in 2007, compared with 14,181 lodged by men.

According to justice ministry official Ibrahim Lisser, "People have responded well to the introduction of the family law. The measures contained in the text have not been seen as an obstacle. The increased number of marriages proves this." In fact, reconciliation is one of the core ideas of the family code. It affords couples the opportunity to resolve their problems before advancing to talks of divorce. There were 8,512 documented cases of reconciliation in 2007, which represents a 14.45% increase over 2006 figures. Another possible effect of the law is that more women are marrying without permission from a guardian. In 2007, 62,162 women arranged their own marriages, which was 3.44% more than in 2006.

Meanwhile, polygamous marriage agreements made up just 0.29% of the total in 2007. According to women’s associations, one serious problem remains – the marriage of minors. The number of such marriages remains high, constituting 10.03% of all marriages. The family code increased the marrying age of women from 15 to 18 years, but parents may still secure a waiver from a judge. According to the justice ministry, this is a cultural issue that cannot be stamped out overnight by a new law. Instead, the ministry intends to raise public awareness. Many other measures have been introduced to complement the reforms: family courts have been created, judges have received additional training, and civil registry procedures have been modernised.

Radi said the efforts to modernise family matters will continue. "This assessment proves in a tangible way what great efforts have been put into family law," he said. "There is a need to improve working conditions in the family justice departments," the minister continued, "in order to promote a higher quality of service, to modernise, and to restore confidence in the justice system."

26th February 2008

Petition calls for repeal of repressive gay sex law

by Gemma Pritchard
A human rights movement has called on the Moroccan government to repeal a law that demands prison terms for consensual homosexual acts. The petition, launched by Human Rights Watch and the Moroccan Human Rights Association, also asks for the release of six men currently imprisoned under this article of the penal code, and demands that the government protect the rights to privacy and a fair trial. Police arrested the six men in November 2007, after a video was circulated on the internet, including on YouTube, showing a private party in Ksar el-Kbir, a town between Rabat and Tangiers.
Press reports claimed the party was a "gay marriage".

The prosecution produced no evidence at trial that the defendants had violated Article 489, which provides prison terms for persons who commit "lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex." The men, who ranged from 20 to 61 year of age, all denied the charges. On December 10th, after demonstrators marched through the town demanding that the men be punished, a court in Ksar el-Kbir sentenced them to between four and 10 months in prison. A Tangiers appeal court on January 15th upheld their conviction but reduced their sentences slightly.

"This trial shows how an unjust law can be used to violate the basic right to privacy and fuel social prejudice," Joe Stork, director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division told

"When a trial is as unfair as this one, people should protest to the authorities," Khadija Ryadi, president of the Moroccan Human Rights Association added. "Beliefs may differ, but everyone shares the desire for justice."

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Morocco has ratified, bars interference with the right to privacy. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has condemned laws against consensual homosexual conduct as violations of the ICCPR. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has held that arrests for consensual homosexual conduct are, by definition, human rights violations

Yemen Times

March 1, 2008

Hate speech divides Moroccan press

by Yemen Times Staff
In Morocco, articles published by the Arabic-language Al Massae daily have led to a strong division of the press. According to Said Essoulami, director of the Casablanca-based Centre for Media Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa, this controversy shows the difficulties of Moroccan media to cover sexual, cultural, political and ideological diversities.
It all started in November 2007, when the Al Massae daily reported on a supposed homosexual marriage ceremony that according to the paper had taken place in the small Ksar el Kebir town in the north of Morocco. Images shot at this private party were first posted on YouTube and then publicised by Al Massae. Following that, demonstrators, perhaps as many as 13000, charged through Ksar El Kebir to protest the alleged gay marriage ceremony.

In parallel to these events, a conflict arose between a number of Moroccan newspapers, with some of them condemning the role played by Al Massae, and others supporting them. The media attention also led to a court case and jail sentences against the people present at the supposed marriage. The party organiser was charged for ‘sexual perversion’ and the ‘illegal sale of alcohol’ on 10 December 2007 and sentenced to ten months in jail. The announcement of the a verdict fanned the flame in the war of interposed editorials waged by the French-language papers TelQuel and Le Journal Hebdomadaire against Al Massae. The latest in the saga: Rachid Nini, director of Al Massae, was ordered to appear before the court on 22 February on charges of slander by order of the prosecutor’s office in Ksar El Kebir.

APN spoke to Said Essoulami, Director of the Centre for Media Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa (CMF MENA), based in Casablanca.

APN: What are your comments on the exchange between certain papers set off by the Ksar el Kebir affair?

Said Essoulami: Al Massae has attacked everyone who criticised the hate speech and encouragement of violence disseminated by the media during the Ksar El Kebir events. Rachid Nini, director of Al Massae, insulted Ali Amar, director of the Journal Hebdomadaire and Ahmed Benchemsi, director of TelQuel, as well as me because CMF MENA was the first to publish a press release condemning the hateful behaviour of Al Massae and two other Arabic-language dailies, Assabahia and Attajdid, against the homosexual minority, considering that it is a violation of their private life which puts them in danger.

In the days that followed the publication by Al Massae and the two other papers, mobs of youths attacked the homes of several people, including that of the person who had supposedly organized the gay party.

One person even had to take shelter at the police station. The rioters declared that they got their information from Al Massae. These events are very serious. Certain papers revert to hate speech and encourage violence in order to sell more. They don’t care about the consequences of the materials they publish. They think they’re doing a big favour to society by protecting its values from any deviants.

APN: Does the conflict between the newspapers reflect the general tension Moroccan society is experiencing since several years back?

SE: The exchange between TelQuel and Al Massae is typical because each of them represents a political and ideological standpoint in the country. In broad terms, Al Massae defends the traditional values close to the Islamic standpoint and TelQuel the modern values close to the liberal left wing.

APN: What has this affair revealed about the ethics and professionalism of the Moroccan press?

SE: It acutely addresses the problem of how the media cover sexual, cultural, political and ideological diversities in our country. Journalists unconsciously use stereotypes and clichés to describe the life of those living with AIDS, African refugees, prostitutes, beggars and the homeless. Furthermore, they attack artists, writers and other groups whose opinions differ from the dominant ideas. Minorities are perceived as parasites, deviants or dangers to society. This representation manipulates a certain audience which is ready to externalize their frustrations through hatred, racism and violence.

There has been no work done on the duty of journalists to respect the rights and freedoms of individuals, their private life, nor on the manner in which the media must treat subjects in relation to the diversity of our society.

CMF MENA will, in cooperation with a dozen Moroccan publications, launch a campaign on the media and diversity. Something has to be done now before things go any further. Hate media can easily spring up to destabilize the country. The experiences in other countries serve as a warning to us.

Source: Arab Press Network

17th March 2008

Petition for men convicted over "gay party" in Morocco

by staff writer
The Moroccan Association for Human Rights, along with Human Rights Watch, is launching a petition following the imprisonment of six men for same sex sexual conduct. Police in Morocco arrested the men in November 2007 after a video circulated on the Internet showing a private party in Ksar-el-Kbir. A Tangiers appeals court upheld the conviction under Article 489 of Morocco’s penal code, which criminalises sexual conduct between members of the same sex, despite the video showing no evidence of sexual acts.

At trial, the prosecution produced no evidence that any of the defendants had violated Article 489, which provides prison terms for people who commit "lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex." The petition aims to repeal Article 489 of the code and quash the verdicts against the men, who were sentenced to between four and ten months in prison. Article 489 gives the police, and, in this case the judiciary, power to interfere arbitrarily with people’s private lives.

The men were arrested by police between November 23rd and 25th 2007, after a video circulated online, including on YouTube, purporting to show a private party, allegedly including the men. Press reports claimed the party was a "gay marriage." The six men range in age from 20 to 61 years old. The Moroccan government is being urged to protect the human rights to privacy and to a fair trial.

Supporters are requested to show their opposition to Moroccan authorities by sending an email to


16 March 2008

Arab human rights activists meet in Morocco to draft law

A three-day Arab human rights workshop kicked off Friday (March 14th) in Marrakesh under the title "Human Rights Movement in the Arab Region: Questions and Current Challenges", Kuna reported. Some 30 experts and human rights activists from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, Palestine, Yemen, Lebanon and Syria are taking part in the event, organised by Morocco’s Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Studies and the Ford Foundation. Discussions are expected to culminate in the drafting of an Arab law which aims to disseminate a culture of human rights in the Arab world.

Mahgreb News

June 15, 2008

Morocco Poised to Fight Child Labor

Many Moroccan children are forced to work to supplement their parents’ income. The Moroccan government is working to improve education and combat poverty to curb the phenomenon. Imane Belhaj in Casablanca contributed to this report . As the international community marked World Day Against Child Labour on Thursday (June 12th), Moroccan Employment and Vocational Training Minister Jamal Aghmani noted Morocco’s ongoing commitment to eradicating the phenomenon and building what he called a Morocco "worthy of its children". The International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the annual event in 2002 to call attention to the worldwide crisis. With the support of the ILO’s Fighting Child Labour Program, the Labour Directorate of the Moroccan Ministry of Employment, Social Affairs, and Solidarity conducted a comprehensive study on the issue four years ago to identify intervention mechanisms ranging from legislation to social programmes.

"Moroccan child labour experts [cited] poverty, poor quality education and poor access to education (particularly for girls), broken families, and widespread social acceptance of child labour as primary factors explaining the prevalence of child labour," Human Rights Watch said about the 2004 study, noting that "Morocco has one of the highest child labour rates in the Middle East and North Africa".

Study results helped Morocco prepare a national plan to help these "invisible children". Although Morocco had already ratified two ILO child labour conventions by 2001, it enacted a new Labour Code which went into effect in June 2004. The new code prohibits employing children less than 15 years of age, bans dangerous labour for all children under age 18 and provides for legal sanctions against employers who recruit children under the age of 15 to work. The law is not enough, however, without a comprehensive strategy to address the socio-economic factors which contribute to this phenomenon, said Ahmed Leqsiouer, an expert at the International Labour Bureau (BIT) in Morocco.

"In addition to the growing poverty in rural areas, the general expenses allocated to curb child labour are still very little, foremost among which is attention for schooling. There are still 15 million children who don’t go to school, including 600,000 children aged between 7 and 14 years. Of these children, 16% contribute to the family’s income," he told Magharebia.

A study conducted last year under the ADROS initiative, sponsored by Washington, DC-based Management Systems International (MSI) showed that 380,000 Moroccan children under 15 years old left school in 2006, and that a number of them entered the labour market at an early age: "something that threatens the future of thousands of children by denying them the right to schooling and exposing them to all forms of dangers against their health, and their physical and psychological well-being". Morocco’s comprehensive strategy to curb child labour involves improving rural education and living conditions as well as fighting adult illiteracy so that parents may understand the need to educate their children instead of exposing them to work at an early age. Indeed, an ILO-World Bank report published in 2005 said that Moroccan parents’ level of education and access to water and electricity have a strong impact on whether rural children work.

Legal prohibition by itself did not stop the child labour problem in Morocco, agrees Said Haida of Association Hadaf. "Therefore, we are working on organising awareness campaigns for parents in order to convince them of the need to look for other means for their children’s future instead of making them work," she told Magharebia. However, Fatima, who makes her daughter Nozha work as a house maid, had a different opinion. She doesn’t have any objections to her 14-year-old daughter’s work. "If it hadn’t been for that work," she says, "we wouldn’t have found a means of living to feed me, her three brothers and crippled father".

Magharebia News

August 1, 2008

Internet Chat Rooms Offer Romance to Maghreb Residents–Including Lesbians

The Maghreb region has embraced the trend of meeting strangers in chat rooms and finding a venue for self-expression, even on taboo subjects, in cyber-space.

by Jamel Arfaoui for Magharebia in Tunis
Chat and dating websites like Ab Coeur entice people of all ages to converse openly, despite sometimes strict social taboos. For many people in the Maghreb, the internet has gone from a forum for discussing politics to a place where emotions kept hidden in public can be freely expressed.
In a society still bound by traditions and redlined by religion, people of all ages and social classes prefer to hide their deepest thoughts behind solid computer screens. With a plethora of "virtual clubs" springing up online, cyberspace is the new meeting place for finding a friend or, for some lucky ones, a perfect romantic partner.

Meryam, who is over 30 years old and still single, said the internet helped her achieve her long-desired goal of getting to know the opposite sex "without embarrassment or any obligations". "I’m free to speak to whoever I want and to reject whoever I want," she said. "The environment in which I grew up is conservative and rejects social intercourse between men and women. I had no other option but to secretly log into these virtual clubs where the two sexes can meet."

One website drawing more visitors every day is Ab Coeur. It is becoming increasingly popular among the young. According to the owners of the website, the number of subscribers is currently about 300,000, made up mostly of Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans. The French also have a notable presence on the site. Subscribers range from 18 to 90 years old. One-third of them are women. Ab Coeur subscriber Mourad ben Saad, a young man in his twenties, said he spends more than 5 hours a day on his computer, either surfing or chatting on the website. "I have become addicted to speaking with girls whom I don’t know," he said. "We speak about everything… without any taboos." Mourad’s internet girlfriends are of different ages, locations and backgrounds. He has also encountered married women, as well as men who wanted to have relations with him. "What surprised me most is that they spoke frankly with me about their sexual inclinations," he told Magharebia, "including sexual preferences that no one would dare to speak about away from the computer screen".

Journalist Mokhtar Tlili has been monitoring the website since it was launched five years ago. "You find the real images of the Arab and Islamic societies," he said. "You discover people who speak absolutely honestly about issues that are not only rejected in our countries, but also religiously and morally banned; issues that family and friends refuse to accept." Tlili thinks that the internet has forever changed the rules for social contact in the region. "After 14 centuries of a male-dominated system that doesn’t allow any discussion of emotional and sexual issues, the web came to destroy all the taboos and forbidden issues. Our young people are now able to find a confession stand on the web, through which they express all their passionate dreams, as well as their concerns and questions, without fear," Tlili explained. "The web has given the young people of our region an unparalleled opportunity to escape from a reality that judges natural emotional relations on a scale of halal and haram."

He also suggests that speaking so freely about emotional matters may relieve some young people from psychological pressures which can lead to violence: "After someone spends his/her night speaking about love and agitated passions, this will make them more balanced the following morning when they walk in the streets."

[Jamel Arfaoui] For many young people, meeting online is easier than arranging to spend time in person. But this virtual freedom does not come without a need for online anonymity. Fake names and fictionalised biographies are common among the Tunisians who frequent these sites. Some use entertainers’ names such as "Jennifer Lopez" or "Monica Bellucci." Others prefer to go political and choose to be called "Obama" or "Kennedy". Subscribers offer a hint about their personality with usernames such as lalatek (your lady), mughamer" (adventurer), aabera (female passer-by) or haera (bewildered woman). Devout Muslims have also joined the trend. Religious net surfers, such as the Moroccan teacher who introduced himself as "Muslim" or the Tunisian woman with the moniker "mohajaba" (veiled woman), do not hesitate to ask that their partner be devout as well. Men outnumber women 4-1 in chat rooms. Most are in their thirties or forties.

No one seems embarrassed to talk about their sexual preferences, even married men and women looking for casual relationships or girls looking for intimacy with other girls. "All males, with all due respect, please don’t try to contact me," one female user writes on her page. Another post says, "I will reject all men. Therefore, they shouldn’t try to contact me and waste my time." During the week, especially in the morning hours, older people dominate the site. Most of them access the internet from work. It is another story on the weekends, however, when young people make web traffic spike. In "a world where there is no time for meeting or getting to know other people", said Tunisian social worker Mongi Saidani, the younger generation is comfortable pursuing online rendezvous. "Unlike the reality they live in," he said, in the cyber-world, "young men are not required to propose or bear the consequent financial obligations".

The web "protects them against everything, including the taboos that are still prevalent in Arab society,"
Saidani added. Although we are in the 21st century, he noted, speaking about sex is still off-limits in Tunisia and across the Maghreb. Online, he told Magharebia, behind the safety of the computer screen, anything is possible and everyone has a voice.
According to statistics released this year by the Arab League, the percentage of internet penetration is 14.36% in Morocco, 5.62% in Libya, 5.33% in Algeria, 3.46% in Tunisia and 0.47% in Mauritania

27 August 2008

Moroccan court upholds sentence for human rights’ activist

A Moroccan appeals court on Tuesday (August 26th) upheld the six month prison sentence of human rights activist Brahim Sbalil. He was sentenced last month–along with the Aljazeera Rabat bureau chief Hassan Rachidi–for publishing false information regarding the June youth riots in Sidi Ifni.


27 November 2008

Moroccan study finds prostitutes lacking AIDS awareness

For a new study on AIDS awareness, a Moroccan organisation chose to survey a population living in the shadows: prostitutes. Results showed members that their message about AIDS is "not getting through".

by Imrane Binoual in Casablanca and Sarah Touahri in Rabat for Magharebia—27/11/08
A groundbreaking study published in mid-November by the Morocco section of the Pan-African Organisation for the Fight Against AIDS (OPALS) focused on an activity that is a major source of sexually transmitted diseases – prostitution.
"Prostitution is closely linked with the economic, social and mental situation of those who are involved in it," the November 13th report said.

With a headquarters in Rabat and 16 branches across the Kingdom, OPALS is dedicated to fighting AIDS in three areas: prevention, community action and medical care, including gynecological services and free, anonymous screening. To assess the magnitude of the problem in Morocco, OPALS researchers ventured into undocumented territory for the new study. More sex workers were interviewed than in any previous survey on sexual diseases, and the organisation conducted research in mid-Atlas towns such as El Hajeb, Azrou, Imouzzer and Khenifra, which had never before been studied in this way.

OPALS’ findings pointed to one main conclusion: that a new awareness-raising strategy must be initiated to prevent the spread of AIDS. Most sex workers in the country lack basic knowledge of how to prevent AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), the study found, noting that prostitutes and their clients often refuse to use condoms. Of 500 sex workers surveyed, 43.5% did not use protection during intercourse. Some 30% of the prostitutes who participated in the study had also never been to school.

"What we’re finding is that there is ignorance of AIDS, no culture of prevention and little use of condoms," said OPAL Morocco President Nadia Bezzad. The aim of the survey was to improve prevention, such as condom-usage and medical testing in order to curb health risks related to STDs, explained Professor Azzouz Ettounsi, a specialist in psycho-sociology who headed the study team. Prevention efforts are undermined, however, by the lack of information about prostitution and its link to the spread of diseases in Morocco.

Prostitution is illegal and punishable by prison in Morocco. But some women still do it for financial reasons. "It’s very difficult to get a clear idea of the national picture with regard to prostitution", Ettounsi said, "in particular because of its clandestine and illegal nature." "It is also a diverse profession," he added. "While some prostitutes acknowledge that they are sex workers, there are also some who refuse to admit that they belong to the profession."

Some 13% of the surveyed prostitutes identified themselves as virgins who do not engage in complete intercourse. For that reason, they told researchers, they do not need to take precautions. They are mistakenly convinced that STDs and AIDS are only transmitted through penetrative intercourse. "The survey showed us that misconceptions with regard to AIDS sufferers are rife," Bezzad confirmed. "The clear conclusion is that our message about AIDS is not getting through."

"We must not focus our efforts to combat AIDS solely on the use of condoms," she continued. "That is not working. We need to take all factors into account. Education is also very important, much more so than medicine. We must also look at the role of schools and the fight against illiteracy and poverty. "

One way to help sex workers is to provide them with a legal source of income, said Moha Ouali Arifi, president of the Social Association for the Development of Tighssaline. The local initiative, Arifi explained, helps women of all backgrounds find job opportunities, regardless of their education level. The Tighssaline association is also working to raise awareness among sex workers to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, especially AIDS. "We firmly believe that human beings are valuable inside," she said. "We give women the training they need to get involved in sustainable development."

03 December 2008

Moroccan artists sign Artists’ AIDS Pact

The Moroccan government is taking steps to encourage Moroccan artists to incorporate the fight against AIDS in their work.

by Sarah Touahri for Magharebia in Rabat
The Moroccan Ministry of Health called on all artists to help raise public awareness about AIDS, in an effort to curb the spread of the disease. A large number of artists signed the "Artists’ AIDS Pact" on World AIDS Day (December 1st). The signatories to the pact pledged to raise awareness of AIDS and to contribute through individual and joint efforts in the fight against the disease. They vowed to help fight discrimination against and the stigmatisation of those living with HIV, and to include the issue of AIDS into various cultural events. Composer and actor Younes Megri said that artists can play a key role in helping the public understand the problem and prevent the spread of the disease. "Artists can reach out to people and help get the message across," he stated.

Ahmed Guitaa, Secretary-General of the Moroccan Culture Ministry, stressed the need to help those living with AIDS to reintegrate into society through cultural programmes and media campaigns. He added that the ministry would provide access to venues and logistical support to artists who incorporate the fight against AIDS in their work. On her end, Health Minister Yasmina Baddou said that her department wants to develop and implement a new national public communications strategy.

Furthermore, the government is stepping up efforts to decentralise care for HIV-positive people. Regional plans to fight the disease will soon be in place in five priority regions: Souss-Massa-Draa, Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz, Greater Casablanca, Tadla-Azilal and Tangier-Tetouan. "We need to be more vigilant, especially since we are seeing higher rates of infection in some regions among certain groups with a greater risk of infection," Baddou commented.

She added that significant funds have been allocated for expanding mobile testing. The ministry is currently setting aside 13m dirhams per year for the purchase of medicine and equipment under the national AIDS plan. Although the HIV incidence rate is low in Morocco, with no more than 0.08% of the population affected (2,798 cases of AIDS), officials are taking steps to stop the disease in its tracks.

The national AIDS programme has already reached 750,000 people, a large number of them women and children, out of a target audience of one million to be achieved by 2012. It has also permitted the testing of 43,000 people and the treatment of 2,000 others living with HIV out of the 4,500 targeted. The plan also includes psychological and social support for people living with HIV and is aimed at capacity building, expanding public-private partnership, overhauling the national co-ordinating committee and providing support to regional cross-sector AIDS committees.

22 December 2008

Human Rights Watch report on Western Sahara and Tindouf reignites debate

A new report on human rights in Western Sahara has moved Morocco, Algeria and the Polisario Front to defend their actions and issue new accusations.

by Sarah Touahri and Naoufel Cherkaoui for Magharebia in Rabat – 22/12/08
Representatives of Morocco and the Polisario Front have traded barbs in the wake of the release Friday (December 19th) of a new report on the state of human rights in Western Sahara and refugee camps in neighbouring Algeria. The three-year Human Rights Watch study assessed the situation of residents of both territories and concluded that much work remains to be done.

In the report, which came just days after Morocco and the Polisario accused one another of human rights abuses on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the NGO reasserts the Sahrawi people’s right to the freedoms of speech, association and assembly, and to self-determination. Researchers concluded that Morocco has curbed these rights by introducing laws to punish offences deemed to undermine Morocco’s "territorial integrity", with arbitrary arrests, biased legal rulings, restrictions on free association and assembly and police violence and harassment which have gone unpunished.

The Polisario Front supported these claims, stressing after the report’s release that it is "important that the international community be made aware of the grave violations of human rights committed by the occupying Moroccan forces". Morocco dismissed the complaints as "unfounded". According to the interior ministry, the Moroccan government has imposed restrictions only on freedom of speech and activities that represent a threat to public order and security, in accordance with the international pact on civil and political rights. The authorities also explained that certain extreme measures are necessary to avoid violence. According to the report, protestors have thrown stones and Molotov cocktails during certain pro-independence rallies, causing injury to law enforcement personnel and members of the public and damaging property.

Human Rights Watch did praise the Moroccan state for opening the door to a wider debate on the issue of the Sahara. One example is the legal recognition of a political party which calls itself the "Way of Democracy" (An-Nahj Addimoqrati), whose platform includes the possibility of a referendum for Sahrawi independence. Over the course of the study, Human Rights Watch investigators also visited the refugee camps across the Algerian border in Tindouf. One observation made during these visits was that the Polisario Front takes great pains to marginalise any voices directly defying its leadership or the general direction of its policies.

Opponents are not imprisoned, and residents are allowed to criticise the day-to-day running of camp business, but fear and social pressure prevent some camp residents from leaving Tindouf to settle in Western Sahara. The rights of camp residents in Tindouf remain vulnerable, the report claims, due to the camps’ isolation and the lack of supervision by host country Algeria to ensure that the Sahrawis living there are afforded their full human rights. In the recommendations made in the report, Morocco is called upon to respect freedoms and Algeria is encouraged to allow monitoring of human rights on the ground in Tindouf, through a suitable United Nations mechanism like MINURSO. According to Human Rights Watch, a letter has been sent to the Algerian authorities, but so far no response has been forthcoming.

The Polisario expressed its disappointment that the report "ignored and failed to denounce the most fundamental of all violations" by Morocco. In its estimation, the "mother" of all these wrongs is the "denial of the right of the Sahrawi people to exercise its inalienable democratic right to self-determination". For Khadija Ryadi, chair of the Moroccan Human Rights Association, the report is significant because it covers the human rights situation in Tindouf, where her organisation has never had access. "We have some representation in Laâyoune, but not in Tindouf," she told Magharebia. "I think the findings are important, as is the recommendation to set up a mechanism for evaluating human rights in the Sahara."

In an official statement, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa Director for Human Rights Watch, said: "Repression has eased somewhat, and today dissidents are testing the red lines. Moroccan authorities – to their credit – ask us to judge them not against their own past record, but against their international human rights engagements." "By that standard," she added, "they have a long way to go."

2008 December 29

Morocco moves to safeguard human rights

Morocco’s Interior Ministry welcomed human rights activists last week for a discussion of how the country’s reform plan is faring. Even critics concede that the effort to balance public safety with personal freedom is beginning to show results.

by Sarah Touahri for Magharebia in Rabat – 28/12/08
Morocco intends to make respect for human rights a central part of governmental policy, Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa told the Human Rights Advisory Council (CCDH) Tuesday (December 23rd) in Rabat. Speaking on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Benmoussa outlined the 2008-2012 action plan and assessed Morocco’s progress in safeguarding public interests and personal rights.

"There can be no development without democracy and no democracy without respect for human rights," he said, adding that further measures are on the way. Last week’s meeting between representatives of civil society, human rights NGOs and government officials "is proof that Morocco has made significant strides forward" on the human rights front, Council President Ahmed Herzenni told Magharebia. While admitting that the forces of law and order may sometimes overstep their mark, the Interior Minister said Morocco’s new five-year plan to balance public safety and personal freedoms is already off to a good start.

The curriculum for new officers at the Royal Institute for Local Administration was overhauled to incorporate communication techniques, good governance and human rights policies. A central ethics and human resources development committee has also been put in place to tackle behaviour incompatible with professional ethical standards and take action against officials who fail to perform their duties, Benmoussa said. In addition, a detachment of the Auxiliary Forces is now available under a new neighbourhood management system to assist security officers. Future initiatives will expand community-based services, improve the security apparatus and boost financial and human resources.

"Today’s Ministry of the Interior is very different from the old one, back in the days when severe breaches of human rights and freedoms occurred," Herzenni remarked. "The ministry has responded to all enquiries submitted by the Human Rights Advisory Council without exception and without delay." In recent years, officials guilty of professional misconduct have not gone unpunished by the courts, he noted, adding that the public, no longer afraid of abuses, is on better terms with the authorities.

The fact that NGOs were even invited to the Ministry of the Interior to discuss keeping tabs on officials indicates the government’s will to achieve reform, asserted Lahbib Belkouch, president of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy Studies. Still, forum participants agreed that much work remains on the human rights front.

"We have to acknowledge the fact that we have political prisoners. The state only talks about them once they have been released," said Abdelhamid Amine, the vice-president of the Moroccan Human Rights Association. According to Moroccan Human Rights Organisation chief Amina Bouayache, many challenges lie ahead, such as the government’s approach to sit-ins and counter-terrorism operations. "Today’s meeting," she said Tuesday in Rabat, "is just the first stage of a national debate".