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French Version

Royal pardon ends Morocco's Facebook farce

Fouad Mourtada, the young Moroccan who was sentenced to three years in prison for creating a spoof Facebook profile for prince Moulay Rachid, has received a royal pardon after 43 days in prison. What is left is a black eye for Morocco's international reputation.

Menassat, Here's what's happening in Arab media.

In the end, Fouad Mourtada spent 43 days in prison. Not the three years he was sentenced too but still: 43 days in prison for creating a fake Facebook profile of King Mohammed VI's younger brother, prince Moulay Rachid.

The young IT engineer, 26, benefited from a royal pardon that allowed him to leave Akasha prison in Casablanca on the evening of March 18, 2008. After spending the night at his sister's house in Rabat, Fouad headed to Kalmima in the South of Morocco to celebrate the Prophet's Birth with his family.

One of Fouad's friends told MENASSAT, "He was in a very bad shape when he left prison; it has been a hard experience for him, both emotionally and physically."

Fouad is set to return to his job after a period of rest.

In the Moroccan blogosphere, there was relief over Foaud's pardon.

Milod the Ottoman, a Moroccan blogger and faithful supporter of Fouad, said, "With this initiative, the king has erased a black cloud hanging over Morocco that made the Moroccan government a joke in the eyes of the world."

Fouad Mourtada was arrested on February 5 and sentenced to three years of prison and a 10,000 dirhams (970 euros)

The two policemen who stood in his way blindfolded him and put him in a first car then another, before he was tortured and forced to speak.

On February 22, the judge sentenced Mortada with three years of prison and 10,000 dirhams (970 euros, $1,350).

The shockwave of the sentencing was felt way beyond Morocco.

Moroccan blogger Larbi said, "[Before Fouad's arrest,] I was often contacted by international journalists to discuss the freedom of the blogs in Morocco in comparison with its neighboring countries. I used to confirm their comments about the freedom of the Moroccan blogosphere. But now things have changed; the 'Moroccan exception' on the Internet ended."

Huge support

Part of the problem was a misunderstanding of the nature of Facebook on the part of the Moroccan authorities.

Hisham, an activist from Casablanca said, "Since many people here don't know what Facebook is, they thought Fouad was really impersonating the Prince."

The support for Fouad, both in Morocco and abroad, was huge.

Protest rallies were organized in Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, London, Montreal, Washington, Brussels and Chili.

In Rabat, the Moroccan Human Rights Association organized a protest which gathered 150 people in front of the school from which Fouad graduated in 2005.

On Facebook, sympathetic members created a new profile for Fouad which was joined by 4,000 people, and dozens of Facebook users replaced their profile picture with Fouad's as a sign of support.

Fouad's family created their own website dedicated to his cause which attracted 71,000 visitors in less than three weeks, and a petition for his release was signed by 7,000 people.

The family also sent a letter to prince Moulay Rashid, which could have been what led to the royal pardon.

Many people wanted to know how the Moroccan authorities had gotten hold of Fouad's identity since he posted his profile not in the his own name but in the name of prince Moulay Rashid.

Legal entanglement

Suspicion first fell on Facebook itself but, in the Wall Street Journal, the company categorically denied having given information to the Moroccan police.

A source at Itisalat al-Maghreb, Morocco's main Internet provider, also denied any knowledge of the matter.

So the mystery remains for now.

What is left is the legal entanglement.

According to a lawyer from Rabat, "There is no tangible evidence of the crime because the Internet is virtual. In addition to that, there are no legal texts about Internet use in Morocco, which means there is no legal framework under which Mourtada could have been judged."

Fouad was sentenced under law 03-07, which covers the technical handling of data, and chapter 381 of the penal code, which covers "impersonating a character."

But lawyers neither laws applied to Fouad's case.

Law 03-07 concerns the data saved by official institutions and penalizes changes made to the data in order to benefit the perpetrator, e.g. fraudulent bank transfers or forging official documents.

Chapter 381 of the penal code also stipulates that the subject needs to benefit from the impersonation in order for the law to apply.

But Fouad didn't benefit from his spoof profile of prince Moulay Rachid.

In fact, he never even used it.

The police themselves have admitted as much, saying that Fouad never sent messages from the prince's spoof profile.

Bad publicity

According to some press reports. Fouad only created the profile in order to meet girls, which his lawyer, Ali Ammar, confirms.

For this, Ali Ammar added, his client was subjected to torture which Fouad said "would have had him admitting he was a member of a terrorist organization if they had asked him the question."

In the end, it is the image of the Moroccan authorities which has suffered the most since they were exposed to the whole world not just for their treatment of Fouad but also for their apparent ignorance of modern information technology.

It is bad publicity that Morocco could have done without.

Marseille,03 30 2008
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