Moroccan artists persecuted, imprisoned when crossing red lines: UPR report

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Morocco should replace unclear and vague provisions in the Penal Code and decriminalize the so-called “red line” offenses, according to a new joint stakeholder submission to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review process by Freemuse and Racines – two civil society organizations defending artistic freedom in Morocco and globally.

COPENHAGEN/CASABLANCA, 17 OCTOBER 2016 | Morocco often hosts musical festivals and other cultural events attracting international artists and praise from the international community. But there is a flip side to Morocco’s support of cultural life. Artists that overstep the vaguely defined “red lines” of harming the monarchy, Islam, sex and sexuality, or “territorial integrity” (Morocco’s claim of sovereignty over Western Sahara), face persecution, prosecution and sometimes imprisonment.

A 17-year-old rapper rapping about a rough life in Casablanca, including drug use and police corruption, was one of several rappers charged and jailed under Morocco’s Penal Code, narcotics law and Press Code in the past 4.5 years. The arrest of the Casablanca rapper, Othman Atiq known as Mr. Crazy, illustrates the vague Penal Code and subsequent limits on artistic freedom. In 2014, Moroccan authorities imprisoned Mr. Crazy for three months on charges of “offending a state institution” and “harming public morality” due to the lyrics of his songs criticizing the local police, alongside his simulation of drug use and violence.

“Morocco’s 2011 Constitution guarantees the right to artistic freedom, and the recently approved law on Status of Artists has it included in its preamble,” said Racines. “The Moroccan government must stop imprisoning artists for their expressions, respect the application of the legal provisions and ensure artists, including women artists, and audiences are free to express themselves and participate in cultural events without fear of reprisal even when they cross so-called ‘red lines’.”

The “red lines” are often unclear and implemented without consistency by non-transparent actors, including police authorities, thus providing a significant obstacle to freedom of expression and artistic freedom in Morocco. The joint report therefore includes a recommendation to decriminalize the “red line” offenses, as well as recommendations to replace unclear and vague provisions in the Penal Code and to secure human rights training for police, while stressing the need for artistic and human rights education in schools. The report makes a total of seven recommendations, several of them reiterating recommendations made by member states, including Greece, Sweden and the United States, during Morocco’s second cycle review in 2012.

“Moroccan rappers and other artists have the right to express themselves artistically and peacefully about different ideas for society,” said Freemuse Executive Director Ole Reitov. “It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that police and other law enforcement officials don’t quell artistic expressions.”

The report was filed on 22 September 2016 ahead of Morocco’s third cycle Universal Periodic Review – the UN system’s official mechanism for reviewing all member states’ human rights records in cycles of four-and-a-half years. The review will take place in Geneva in May 2017.

— [ENDS] —


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» The full stakeholder report on artistic freedom in Morocco by Freemuse and Racines is available in English here

Also available in Arabic and French.



Freemuse is an independent international membership organization advocating and defending the right to artistic freedom worldwide. Freemuse has held Special Consultative Status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2012  and has previously submitted UPR stakeholder reports on artistic freedom in Belarus, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, United States and Zimbabwe.

Racines is a Moroccan non-profit organisation advocating for the integration of culture into public, human, social and economic development policies, in Morocco and throughout Africa.


Media contacts

Freemuse: Dwayne Mamo, Web Editor
tel +45 3332 1027, email: dwayne.mamo@freemuse.org

Racines: Aadel Essaadani, Racines’ General Coordinator
Tel: +212 6 1977 1977, aadel@racines.ma

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