Abdelhak Senna/ AFP/ Getty Images

Morocco convicts six men for homosexuality

The men face up to three years in prison, and the convictions come amid a growing national debate on sexual freedom

Six Moroccan men were convicted of homosexuality this week and face up to three years in prison, human rights advocates told Al Jazeera on Thursday, amid a growing dialogue on sexual freedoms in the North African kingdom.

Article 489 of the Moroccan penal code punishes homosexuality with up to three years in prison.

The Moroccan Association of Human Rights, known by its French acronym AMDH, confirmed that the six men were convicted in the central city of Fkih Ben Saleh.

The defendants were arrested after one of their fathers accused the five others of coercing his son to engage in “deviant” acts. The six were also convicted of prostitution and public drunkenness, which are punishable offenses in Morocco.

“The authorities often charge [gay people] with prostitution and a number of other offenses,” said Khadija Riyadi, a member and former president of AMDH.

“The idea is that it had to have been for money,” said Ibtissame “Betty” Lachgar, co-founder of pro-gay and abortion rights organization Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties, which uses the French acronym MALI.

“It couldn’t possibly have been because of love or attraction,” Lachgar added sarcastically.

MALI helped to collect photos of Moroccan heterosexual couples kissing, and organized a “kiss-in” in front of the Moroccan Parliament in the capital city of Rabat in October 2013 to protest the prosecution of teens who posted a photo on Facebook of themselves kissing .

The AMDH has called on Moroccan officials to abrogate the law in support of Moroccans’ personal freedoms.

“There is a lot of hypocrisy here. They know that pre-marital sex is very common here. They know there are openly operating [brothels] and that police even profit from that. And we still sometimes arrest people for sexual crimes. It’s hypocrisy,” Riyadi said.

The Justice Ministry had not responded to an interview request from Al Jazeera at time of publication.

The AMDH and MALI have long decried what Riyadi called a “growing” sexual tourism industry in Morocco.

“There are pedophiles who are sentenced with great leniency,” Riyadi said, referring to the case of a Spanish national who, despite having filmed the rapes of multiple Moroccan children, was pardoned by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. The assailant was re-arrested after the incident sparked street protests.

For gay men, an altogether different double standard exists in Morocco, Lachgar said.

“The authorities generally from what I see let the foreigners do what they want when they are gay,” she said. “It happens [that they are arrested too], but generally they are indulgent.”

In cases where they have Moroccan boyfriends or sexual partners, she added, authorities take matters more seriously.

Lachgar said she believes the six convictions confirmed on Thursday are a response to recent calls from civil society to halt movements to accept homosexuality in Morocco.

Amina Maâ Al Aynin, one of the deputies of Morocco’s ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party, on Wednesday reportedly called on Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Toufik to intervene in the nation’s ongoing debate on homosexuality. The call came after a video called “Love is Not a Crime” sparked a spirited discourse about people attempting to live with their sexuality in Morocco, considered to be one of the most liberal Arab countries.

“I think it's not for nothing that we have these convictions now,” Lachgar said, indicating that there may be more to come.

For Lachgar, who is not gay but says she is developing a larger campaign to promote gay rights, the issue is about the civil liberties of all Moroccans.

The government’s interference in who and how we love is an “attack on personal privacy,” she said.

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