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Page last updated at 03:34 GMT, Thursday, 13 March 2008

Plea for mercy for Facebook spoofer

By James Copnall
BBC News, Rabat

Morocco's "Facebook criminal" Fouad Mourtada continues to be a talking point in the country.

Human rights organisations have called for his immediate release, his family is concerned for him in prison, people all around the world have protested against his jail sentence, and ordinary Moroccans have taken to the streets to demand he is set free.

Fouad Mourtada with a child (Photo: www.helpfouad.com)
Mr Mourtada's brother says he is no criminal

At the end of February, Mourtada was sentenced to three years in jail.

His crime was to create an internet profile in the name of Prince Moulay Rachid, the brother of King Mohammed VI, on the social networking site Facebook.

Mourtada's brother, Ilyas, told the BBC he is worried about him.

"It's very difficult for Fouad to be imprisoned, because he is timid and a gentleman," he said.

"He's an engineer and he works very hard, he is not a criminal.

"Fouad was a fan of the prince, so he created the Facebook profile as a joke, he never thought he was doing something which would bother the prince."

Fouad Mourtada's family have written to both Prince Rachid and King Mohammed VI asking for clemency.

Mourtada's case will also go before the appeal court, probably in the next few weeks.

Clash of civilisation

Mourtada's lawyer, Ali Amar, says the judge simply did not understand the case.

"It's a confrontation, here in Morocco, between an era from before the time of computer technology, and a mentality from the internet era.

We consider him a prisoner of opinion
Mohamed El Boukili
Moroccan Association of Human Rights

"It's two views of civilisation," he told the BBC.

"The authorities weren't able to understand that what Fouad Mourtada did should not be punishable under Moroccan law."

The young engineer was found guilty of identity theft.

Some bloggers in Morocco have stopped writing in protest, and there have been demonstrations on the streets of Paris, Rabat, London and other cities.

Students and staff at Harvard University in America have added their voice to the protests.

Mohamed El Boukili from the Moroccan Association of Human Rights expressed the views of many in the human rights community.

Some 150 people stage a protest calling for the release of Fouad Mourtada in Rabat (1 March 2008)
Protesters in Rabat have been calling for Fouad Mourtada's release

"It's really alarming and damaging for Morocco in the field of human rights and freedom of expression," he told the BBC.

"We are asking for his immediate release and the dropping of all proceedings against him.

"It's a sign for us that freedom of speech in Morocco is not respected, it's added to other signs. We responded because we consider him a prisoner of opinion.

Strong signal

There have been signs that some in the Moroccan political establishment view this as a public relations disaster for the kingdom.

I think justice must happen without being disturbed
Khalid Naciri
Moroccan communications minister

But others believe the sentence sends a strong signal to young Moroccans - that the royal family is sacred.

Moroccan Communications Minister Khalid Naciri says even though he personally believes the sentence was harsh, justice must take its course.

"I don't want to intervene in the judicial process, this affair has just been heard in the courts, and there is nothing stopping this debate continuing in the appeal courts," he said.

"I think justice must happen without being disturbed. But on a personal level, the sentence did appear heavy to me."

But unless the appeal court overrules the initial verdict, or the king decides to grant a pardon, Fouad Mourtada will spend the next three years in prison.


SEE ALSO
Moroccan editor stays in jail
17 Jun 03 |  Africa
Country profile: Morocco
03 Mar 03 |  Country profiles

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