A Moroccan court upheld on Friday a one-year prison sentence for militant rap singer Mouad Belghouat, convicted of defaming the police.
Known as Al-Haqed (The Rancorous One), Belghouat, 24, was handed the sentence in May over a song he wrote called “Dogs of the State,” which denounced police corruption and was deemed an affront to the entire police service.
During the trial, his defense team argued that the song was an artistic creation that should not draw punishment.
Belghouat had aimed his criticism at just a part of the police and not everyone, lawyer Omar Benjelloun said, adding that freedom of speech was on trial.
The main evidence against the rapper was a YouTube video containing a photo-montage of a policeman whose head had been replaced by that of a donkey.
According to Human Rights Watch, Belghouat denied any connection with the video other than that it was set to his song.
The New York-based group said the conviction “shows the gap between the strong free-expression language in Morocco’s 2011 constitution and the continuing intolerance for those who criticize state institutions.”
It noted that the sentence was handed down one week before the opening of the international Mawazine music festival in Rabat, which is held under the patronage of King Mohammed VI.
HRW said Belghouat’s songs denouncing “corruption, injustice and the gap between royal opulence and poverty in Morocco have won him attention as a voice of the pro-reform ‘February 20 youth movement’ that began in Morocco shortly after the start of protests in other Arab countries in early 2011.”