Moroccan authorities on Tuesday sentenced dissident rapper Mouad Belghouat to prison for the third time since he rose to prominence amid the tumult of the North African kingdom’s 2011 Arab Spring democracy movement.
Belghouat — who goes by "El-Haqed," or "The Enraged" in Moroccan Arabic — was sentenced to four months in prison and fined over $1,200, eyewitnesses at the trial Tuesday told Al Jazeera. According to the court, his crimes included scalping tickets to a soccer match in May, public drunkenness and assaulting a police officer.
Friends and family concede that he was rowdy at the time of his arrest outside a stadium, but they insist he did not commit any such crimes. Instead, they allege, the state has capitalized on a moment of ostensible illegal activity to lock him up — for a third time — for his dissidence.
In 2011, Belghouat’s hit song ”Baraka Min Elskate” or “Stop the Silence” roused people to take to the streets in defiance of what he rapped was the state’s monopoly on major industries — from phosphate extraction to telecoms — and its violent backlash against dissent.
Protesters demanded government transparency, the rule of law and opportunities for the nation’s youth. They swore not to leave the streets and city squares until King Mohammed VI relinquished absolute authority to elected officials.
The government appeared to address protesters’ demands in July 2011, when a new constitution written in response to the popular movement passed a popular referendum.
Activists, however, say the document has done little to change the status quo or strengthen the rule of law.
Today, on the streets of Morocco’s biggest cities — Casablanca, Marrakech and the capital, Rabat — and in the countryside, people continue to talk about the lack of economic opportunities and social services, wage theft, land grabs by state-owned enterprises, and law enforcement’s inaction to protect the rights of individual citizens.
Since releasing “Stop the Silence,” Belghouat had been arrested twice before the most recent incident — for assault and public drunkenness, and for insulting a police officer and national security forces.
The latter charge came with a one-year prison sentence, and he was released in March 2013. Among the evidence prosecutors presented to the court was a music video for his song “Kleb Al-Dawla,” or “Dogs of the State,” which featured a cartoon image of a donkey-headed police officer. State attorneys charged it maligned the nation’s police, who are often accused of corruption and brutality. Belghouat and his entourage maintain, as they did throughout his trial and detention, that he had no part in creating the YouTube video for the song.