Jailed Moroccan rapper a symbol for stalled 'Arab Spring' (39631)

Feb. 5 (GIN) – Despite the adoption of a progressive new constitution and the election of an Islamist-led parliament, Morocco continues to curtail free speech and jail dissidents, often using excessive force, say human rights activists in that north African country.

One of those in jail is rapper Mouad Belghouat also known as Al-Haked – the Enraged – who is serving a one-year prison term for a song “Dogs of the State,” critical of the police. This week he began a hunger strike to protest the conditions of his detention, friends said. The claims were denied by the prison.

Belghouat was considered a public face of the February 20 Movement that was born in 2011 during the Arab Spring in Morocco which called for sweeping political reforms.

Franco-Moroccan journalist Zineb el Rhazoui, co-founder of the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties, in a TV interview remarked: “Is Mouad’s trial an isolated case? Quite the opposite: The regime regularly resorts to arbitrary arrests and all manner of intimidation to suppress the protest movement.”

She added: “Social movements are springing up everywhere. Young people are sick of unemployment, the lack of freedoms. They’re sick of the democracy-free zone that is the Moroccan regime. They’re sick of the police state.”

The NY-based Human Rights Watch said the conviction of El-Haked “shows the gap between the strong free-expression language in Morocco’s 2011 constitution and the continuing intolerance for those who criticize state institutions.”

Last month, the watchdog Transparency Morocco awarded the musician a prize for integrity for his “honesty and the justice of his fight for an integrated and transparent society.” Over 70 rights activists are currently in jail awaiting trial for activities in connection with the February 20 Movement, according to the country’s independent association for human rights.