On Sunday May 18, Moroccan authorities arrested—for the third time in three years—artist and human rights activist Mouad Belghouat, alias El Haqed (The Indignant).
El Haqed has been targeted for his political views and his participation in Morocco’s February 20th movement: On 20 February 2011, what began as a group of Moroccans expressing their frustration with the status quo grew to a nationwide movement that demanded change in Morocco. Throughout the course of the past three years, members of the February 20th Movement have faced violent police repression, arbitrary arrests, torture, and death. A few days after Al Haqed’s arrest, on 22 May 2014, six members of the movement were sentenced to up to a year in prison in Casablanca. El Haqed has been the most recent—and consistent—victim of these harsh measures. A Moroccan artist, rapper, and activist, El Haqed rose to popularity in Morocco when his critical music grew into one of the many anthems of the streets. El Haqed’s songs targeted the Moroccan government’s corrupt practices, undemocratic nature, and nepotistic tendencies that have created a circle of elites who are both the most powerful and most wealthy in the country.
El Haqed is facing his third time in prison within the past three years: each time, the charges are more trumped up than the previous. Today, as El Haqed sits in a prison cell in Casablanca while the royal prosecutor punishes him over his artistic expressions, dozens of international artists—including Alicia Keys, Ne-Yo, Robert Plant and other pop luminaries–are provided the platform, funds, and protection to do what El Haqed is denied, even on the basis of Moroccan law.
Article 10 of the “reformed” constitution states: “The Constitution guarantees to the opposition the freedom of opinion, of expression, and of assembly.”
Last time El Haqed was imprisoned, dozens of world renown artists performed at the International Mawazine Music Festival and other Moroccan festivals without a word of support for their jailed comrade. As artists, scholars, journalists, activists and members of the concerned public, we call on the artists performing at the Mawazine, Fes, Essaouira, and other festivals to demand El Haqed’s immediate release from prison and for the release of all artists, activists, and others jailed for exercising their fundamental right to free expression.
Music is not a crime. #FreeL7a9ed. #FreeKoulchi.
Update, 22 May: El Haqed’s trial has been postponed to 29 May. Police presented an unsigned testimony that El Haqed’s lawyers asserts is fabricated as El Haqed decided to remain silent during police interrogation.
For further information on El Haqed:
Al Jazeera America: “Rapper’s arrest highlights Morocco ‘politics of revenge,’ activists say”
Al Jazeera English: “The day the music died in the Arab world?”
Global Voices: “Moroccan Blogger and Rapper El-Haqed Arrested Again”
The Guardian: “El Haqed, Morocco’s hip hop revolutionary”
The Daily Beast: “Morocco Cracks Down on Democracy Rappers”
Magharebia: “Rapper ‘El Haqed’ event blocked by police”
Project on Middle East Democracy: “Moroccan Rapper and Activist Arrested for the Third Time”
Jadaliyya: “Moroccan Authorities Arrest Rapper El Haqed (Mouad Belrhouate) . . . Again