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Rapper jailed for video insulting police

Rapper Mouad Belghouat, better known as
Rapper Mouad Belghouat, better known as "al-Haqed", was handed a one-year jail sentence last week for "insulting the police" through a video

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One of Morocco's most famous rappers and activists was handed a one-year jail sentence on 11 May for "insulting the police" through a video, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Human Rights Watch and Freedom House.

Mouad Belghouat, better known as "al-Haqed" (the sullen one), was arrested in March after a video of his song "Kilab ed-Dowla" (Dogs of the State) was posted on YouTube. He was jailed because the video "showed contempt" toward police with the intention of "undermining their honour," reports Human Rights Watch.

TV5 reports that the song has been circulating online for over a year, but the video, with a photomontage of a police officer whose head had been replaced by a donkey's, was the major incentive for the charges. The video is no longer available online, and Belghouat denies any involvement in its creation, says TV5.

The case has mobilised the country's activist community due to Belghouat's strong voice in the pro-reform 20 February youth movement, formed shortly after Arab Spring protests broke out last year across the region. He is a well-known critic of corruption, injustice and wealth disparity in Morocco.

As such, Belghouat had previously been arrested for allegedly beating up a pro-government protester, a trumped-up charge according to his supporters, report ANHRI and Human Rights Watch. He was found guilty in January 2012 and sentenced to four months' imprisonment, which he had already served in pre-trial detention, say the members.

Despite its highly-touted constitutional reform, Morocco has shown a pattern of severely punishing criticism of the King or public institutions, particularly on social media. Earlier this year, 18-year old student Walid Bahomane was sentenced to 18 months in prison on a charge of "attacking the nation's sacred values" for posting content on Facebook ridiculing the King, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Activist Abdelsamad Haydour, 25, was sentenced to three years in prison in February for criticising the King in a YouTube video he made with another activist from the 20 February movement, reports ANHRI.

As Human Rights Watch notes, Morocco's constitution, which was amended in 2011, makes no provision for punishing freedom of expression. To the contrary, it includes strong free expression guarantees.

However, the monarchy's sacred status is enshrined in article 46, which says "the person of the King is inviolable," and the press and criminal code are still used against anyone deemed to have "attacked the nation's sacred values," says Human Rights Watch.

As Freedom House notes, the rapper's sentencing "draws further attention to Morocco's deeply flawed defamation law and its use for stifling freedom of expression by both citizens and the press."

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