Loubna Abidar / Facebook

Star of controversial film on Morocco sex industry seeks refuge in France

Loubna Abidar, actress in film about hidden side of North African tourism industry, says she fled after severe beating

Loubna Abidar, the star of a controversial Moroccan film on the nation’s sex industry, said on Sunday on her Facebook account that she has sought refuge in France after she was severely beaten last week.

Government officials banned the film, “Much Loved,” from showing in Moroccan cinemas in May. Human rights groups had lauded the film, which was shown in France and Tunisia, for sparking some discussion about the North African kingdom’s sex industry, which many say plays a large part in the nation’s key tourism sector.

A few scenes from the film were circulated widely on Moroccan media early this year, prompting an outcry among social conservatives. In one scene, Abidar, who plays a sex worker, prays that she'll get a customer with a small penis and lots of money.

The Health Ministries in the cities Rabat, Tangier, Fez and Agadir said there were 19,333 sex workers there in 2011, Moroccan newspaper Al Khabar reported in May. A Moroccan human rights advocate, Khadija Riyadi, told Al Jazeera in an interview at the time that the movie had provoked authorities to confront, for the first time, the existence of sex work in the country. 

In a self-recorded video shared on Facebook, Abidar said that unidentified assailants had beaten her on Thursday in Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco.

“All this for a film you haven’t seen; you’ve only seen what people have put on the Internet. God help me,” she said in the video. Abidar said police and hospital workers refused to help her and instead mocked her, allegedly saying, “Finally, you were beaten.”

The police and judiciary officials did not immediately respond to an interview request from Al Jazeera. Moroccan magazine Telquel reported that the authorities refuted the claims, saying that they treated the allegations as they would have anyone else’s.

French newspaper Le Figaro also reported on the beating and Abidar's flight to France, following what she called inaction by Moroccan authorities.

Late Sunday, Abidar posted a message on social media indicating that she had gone to France.

She did not immediately respond to an interview request from Al Jazeera. 

In Morocco, a country where social liberals — including civil society organizers — are often accused of complicity with Western forces and of post-colonial adoration for all things European, some say that people like Abidar who advance liberal discourse on sex workers’ rights undermine themselves by seeking refuge in France.

Betty Ibtissame Lachgar, co-founder of the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties, a Rabat-based organization that advocates for abortion access and gay rights in Morocco, has also tried to promote dialogue about social taboos surrounding sex. 

After three teens were arrested in October 2013 in the northeastern city of Nador and charged with violating public decency for posting photos on Facebook of two of them kissing, Lachgar organized a kiss-in outside of the Moroccan parliament in Rabat. There, too, the campaign faced a backlash. Participants reported being verbally and physically assaulted, Lachgar said. Artists like Abidar, she added, have every right to escape to safety.

Lachgar said that, in the meantime, she will continue to work for a Morocco that is accepting of all men and women. “It's a dream,” she said. “But I hope so.”

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Africa, Morocco

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