By Ben Turner
Impunity Watch Importer, Middle East Desk
CASABLANCA, Morocco – A Moroccan court sentenced Fouad Mourtada to three years in prison and a 10,000 dirhams ($1,304) fine on February 22 for making a fake Facebook profile of Prince Moulay Rachid.
Mourtada, a 26 year-old computer engineer, was accused of “villainous practices” and of stealing the identity of the crown prince, who is second in line to the throne. There are thousands of fake profiles exist on Facebook, ranging from President George W. Bush to Osama Bin Laden.
After posting the fake profile, Mourtada was allegedly kidnapped and tortured on February 5. A website started by his family and supporters said that Mourtada was arrested, blindfolded and taken to an unknown building where he was beaten and insulted (www.helpfouad.com). The Moroccan Security Forces denied that Mourtada was tortured.
Mourtada is quoted as saying the following to relatives who visited him in jail: “I never thought that by creating a profile of his Highness Prince Moulay Rachid I am harming him in any way.” Mourtada said he built the page as a tribute to Prince Rachid. “I admire him,” Mourtada said.
Since the allegations were made, the Moroccan blogosphere has exploded in protest. Facebook groups, such as “Help Fouad Mourtada – Aidez Fouad Mourtada,” have given further notice to the issue. The group is planning a peaceful protest outside of the Moroccan Embassy on March 1.
Since Mourtada’s arrest, at least four other Facebook profiles of Prince Rachid have sprung up, although the pages’ authors are thought to be outside of Moracco and beyond the country’s jurisdiction.
Reporters Without Borders expressed their worry that Mourtada’s arrest would have a stifling effect on free speech.
“This is the first time a Moroccan has been convicted for an online offence and Mourtada was the victim of a summary trial,” a Reporters Without Borders press release said.
“We are worried about the effect on freedom of expression on the Moroccan Internet as all of the country’s bloggers will feel targeted. This disproportionate sentence has shocked the Moroccan blogger community, which is one of the biggest in the region.”
Mourtada’s sister, Amina, echoed those sentiments, telling the Washington Post “Morocco should not want to go down in history as the first country to torture and imprison someone ‘for having created a profile on Facebook.’”
Mourtada’s brother, Ilyas, said the family would appeal the conviction.
For more information, please see:
Reporters Without Borders – Moroccan Bloggers Worried After “Disproportionate” Three-Year Jail Term For Internet User Who Created Spoof Facebook Profile – 26 February 2008
The Washington Post – Fouad Mourtada Gets Three Years for Phony Facebook Page – 26 February 2008
CNN – Morocco Jails Facebook Royal Imposter – 25 February 2008
New York Times – Morocco: Prison for Facebook Prince – 23 February 2008
United Press International – 3 Years for Royal Facebook Fake in Morocco – 23 February 2008
Reuters – Moroccan Jailed over Spoofing Prince on Facebook – 22 February 2008
For sites supporting Fouad Mourtada, please see:
Facebook – Help Fouad Mourtada – Aidez Fouad Mourtada –
Fouad Mourtada’s Family’s Website – http://www.helpfouad.com/