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FAKE PRINCE ON FACEBOOK JAILED FOR THREE YEARS

A Moroccan computer engineer who set up a Facebook account in the name of Prince Moulay Rachid, the King's brother, has been sentenced to three years in jail, report Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the anti-censorship network of bloggers Global Voices Online and international news reports.

Despite an appeal to Prince Moulay Rachid for clemency, a Casablancan court found Fouad Mourtada guilty of falsifying data and imitating the prince without his consent. Mourtada was sentenced to three years behind bars and fined 10,000 Dirhams (US$1,300).

"The importance of the personality at the heart of this affair clearly influenced how the case was handled," Mourtada's lawyer, Ali Ammar, told reporters.

According to HelpFouad.com, a website set up by his supporters, Mourtada said he set up the account on the social networking site in mid-January out of admiration for the prince, who is second in line to the throne.

"It was just a joke, a gag. I regret my gesture and beg my forgiveness from my whole family for the harm that I have caused them," he is quoted as saying.

The court did not reveal how Moroccan police found out Mourtada's identity. According to HelpFouad.com, Fouad said he was arrested on 5 February, blindfolded and taken to an unknown building where he was insulted and beaten until he lost consciousness.

Last week some Moroccan bloggers went "on strike", suspending their regular blog entries for 24 hours in protest at Mourtada's detention and directing attention to the supporters' website.

Thousands of people have set up accounts on Facebook and other social networking sites in the names of celebrities. A quick Facebook search reveals multiple profiles for personalities ranging from George Bush to Mother Teresa. Immediately after the case became known, more Facebook profiles for the Prince sprung up - from the safety of a Western country, reports "The Nation".

Although Mourtada is the first Moroccan to be convicted for an online offence, Morocco is known for using jail sentences to crack down on free expression. In a separate case last week, Mustafa Hurmatallah, a Moroccan journalist who published secret government documents that revealed terrorist threats against his country, had his seven-month prison sentence upheld in the final court of appeal.

Sign a petition to free Mourtada here: http://www.helpfouad.com/7437/index.html

Visit these links:
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25900
- Help Fouad: http://www.helpfouad.com/
- Global Voices Advocacy: http://tinyurl.com/2tedp8
- Reuters: http://tinyurl.com/2p8ka6
- "The Fake Prince of Facebook", "The Nation", http://www.thenation.com/docprint.mhtml?i=20080310&s=lalami
- RSF on Hurmatallah: http://tinyurl.com/23hkja
(Photo courtesy of HelpFouad.com)

(26 February 2008)

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