A Moroccan court sentenced a rap star to a year in prison and a fine of 1 000 dirhams ($103) for insulting police in a case prompting rights groups to voice alarm over freedom of expression in the North African kingdom.
Mohamed Mounir, known as Gnawi, was arrested on November 1 and confessed to cursing the police in a live social media feed a week earlier, saying he was drunk. He can still appeal the sentence handed down on Monday.
He told the judge he recorded the live feed because he felt he was “mistreated by police” earlier when they stopped him and checked his identity papers.
“This trial has nothing to do with freedom of expression. This is a penal code matter,” police lawyer Abdelfattah Yatribi said.
Mounir’s lawyer, Mohamed Sadkou, said the authorities may have focused on the rapper because of a song he and two other singers recorded that appeared to criticise the king.
The three released the song “Aacha Chaab” – “long live the people” – on YouTube on October 29, gaining 15 million views. Mounir’s lyrics focus on his usual themes of social justice and corruption.
One of the other rappers included lines accusing the king of oppression and insulting his religious role in Morocco. The song and other rappers were not mentioned during Monday’s trial.
Mounir’s lawyers said he should have been tried under a separate set of laws governing press and publishing that do not allow imprisonment.
The prosecutor rejected this saying Mounir was neither a journalist nor a publisher. Yatribi asked the judge to add the charge of “insulting god” to the case against Mounir.
Some Mounir’s fans gathered outside court in Sale near Rabat. “Gnawi is innocent. We want him free. He speaks about the rights of the people. He insulted police because he was under the influence of alcohol,” said supporter Mohamed Nouari.
Morocco, a constitutional monarchy where the king holds sweeping powers, had widespread protests during the Arab Spring in 2011, but reformed its constitution to allow more political rights. There are periodic protests.