Morocco: Writer fined, sentenced for defamation over characters in novel

aziz benhadouch male island
The trial court in the central Moroccan province of Ouarzazate sentenced writer Aziz Benhadouch on 2 August 2016 to a two-month suspended prison sentence, levied a 1,000 Dirham (approx. USD $100) fine and ordered he pay 20,000 Dirhams (approx. USD $2,035) in compensation to plaintiffs over his 2014 novel ‘The Island of Males’, reported rights organisation Article 19 on 5 August 2016.

Benhadouch’s novel, which addresses controversial issues of religious and sex education, also tackles the contentious issue of “ghost children”, a phenomenon where Moroccan migrants in the 1950s who moved to France were able to obtain birth certificates that never existed, explained Moroccan news site Telquel.ma.

Benhadouch explained, this issue is problematic as some families now claim these “ghost children” who live in France to receive governmental benefits, an illegal practice he came across while working in the eastern village of Tazenakht. France has the largest concentration of Moroccans living outside Morocco.

Two plaintiffs filed a defamation complaint against the writer in March 2015 over this practice as they claimed characters in the novel were identifiable in the real world. Benhadouch said the two plaintiffs come from the same “notable local family”, but that when he wrote the novel he “did not know them at all” and that the story is fictional and “all characters are inspired by literature”.

In a statement, Benhadouch said “this is the first conviction of its kind against a novelist in the history of Morocco”, and that this decision could set a precedent to be used against other artists. The writer was tried in accordance with the law of the press.

The writer said he had also been the subject of an assassination attempt over the novel.


Sources

» Telquel.ma – 7 August 2016:
Writer sentenced to two month suspended prison sentence for novel

» Badil – 6 August 2016:
Conviction of a Moroccan professor of imprisonment and a fine because of novel

» Article 19 – 5 August 2016:
Writer sentenced by Ouarzazate court for story about “ghost children”

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