Residents took to the streets of Morocco in mass protests Tuesday night, demanding an independent judiciary after King Mohammed VI pardoned and then sought the rearrest of a pedophile convicted of raping and filming his sexual assaults on multiple children.
The release of Daniel Galvan Fina, a 62-year-old Spanish national, from a Moroccan prison as part of a slew of royal pardons on Morocco’s Throne Day, July 30, drove thousands to hold protests Friday in the capital city of Rabat, where clashes with police left dozens injured.
Moroccans demanded transparency and accountability in government during the latest round of demonstrations held in major cities across the country. At a silent demonstration in Casablanca, participants planned to light 2,000 candles to convey their “dignity.”
“We want an independent justice system so that we don’t have another Galvan,” Fadel Abdellaoui, a demonstration organizer, told Al Jazeera.
Others called for tougher laws on pedophilia and the kingdom’s sex trade.
“Pedophiles from around the world must know that Morocco isn’t a country that sells its children in its sex trade,” said Maria Karim, another demonstration organizer.
Spanish authorities apprehended Galvan Monday. He fled Wednesday from Morocco, where he was serving a 30-year sentence for raping at least 11 children – from the ages of 3 to 14, Hamid Krayri, the prosecutor for the victim’s families, and Mohammed Benje, Galvan’s own lawyer told Al Jazeera. Estimates from police and activist sources place the number of Galvan’s victims as high as 20, but say that many declined to participate in legal action against him.
In 2009, a U.S. diplomatic report called Morocco “a source, destination and transit country for men, women and children trafficked for the purpose of forced labor and commercial and sexual exploitation.” The report said that in 2008, Rabat “prosecuted 200 individuals for ‘inciting’ children into prostitution or sexually abusing children,” but “the government did not report the number of individuals convicted or punished for trafficking offenses.”
Responding to pressure from Moroccan protesters, King Mohammed VI said the pardon was an error and that he was unaware Galvan’s name was on the list of inmates to be released. He met with the families of the Galvan’s victims, according to a statement from the palace Tuesday.
Activists said they believed the king’s pardon was a mistake and noted, for what they said was the first time, the king’s mention of “public opinion.”
“Until then, there was never any discourse directed by public opinion,” Karim said.
The monarch also fired Hafid Benhachem from his role as the kingdom’s head of prisons.
Arezki Daoud, founder of the North Africa Journal, told Al Jazeera that placing blame for the royal pardon on Benhachem was “political jockeying.”
“They blame the administrator Benhachem, and that guy works for the [elected] government,” not the crown, Daoud said, explaining that there has been a long-running tension between the crown and elected officials.
In 2011, during nation-wide protests calling for democratic reforms, the Moroccan king oversaw the creation of a new constitution and constitutional referendum that was expected to relinquish some of his power to elected officials.
“In some ways, his promises to divest from responsibilities happened here and there. But from the point of view of the demonstrators, that’s irrelevant. The monarchy calls the shots,” Daoud said.
“The pedophile issue is basically a trigger to public discontent over broad political changes that the monarchy promised,” he added.
Moroccan palace authorities in Rabat did not respond to an interview request at time of publication.