Fouad Mourtada, a 26-year old IT engineer has been held under arrest in Casablanca since February 5th for “villainous practices linked to the alleged theft of the identity” of King Mohammed VI's younger brother, Prince Moulay Rachid, on the popular social networking website Facebook. Fouad appeared in court on Friday February 15th. The trial has been postponed until February 22.
According to a statement released by the Committee of Support for Fouad Mourtada, following the first visit to Fouad on February 12th at Oukacha jail in Casablanca, Fouad provided more information about the circumstances of the arrest and claimed he was “beaten, spat on and insulted”:
I was arrested on the morning of Tuesday by two individuals who embarked me on a vehicle then blindfolded my eyes with a black band. After about fifteen minutes, they changed vehicles, then took me along to some building to undergo an interrogation there. I was persecuted, beaten up, slapped, spat on and insulted. I was also slammed for hours with a tool on the head and the legs. This calvary lasted such a long time that I lost consciousness several times and also lost the notion of time. I was completely surprised to learn, when I was taken again to another location, that it was Wednesday.
In the same statement, Mourtada stressed that he created the Facebook account of Prince Moulay Rachid as a joke. It's not clear how the Moroccan police found out who was behind the account or whether there was any kind of collaboration between Facebook and the police.
I actually created this account on January 15, 2008. It remained online a few days before somebody closed it. There are so many profiles of celebrities on Facebook. I never thought that by creating a profile of his highness prince Moulay Rachid I was harming him in any way. I, as a matter of fact, did not send any message from that account to anyone. It was just a joke, a gag. I regret my gesture and beg my forgiveness from my whole family for the harm that I have caused them.
Fouad Mourtada could face five years in prison “for having done what thousands of people throughout the world do everyday: Create a profile of a celebrity or a star on Facebook,” his lawyer Ali Ammar said, adding: “This is a cultural problem. This is the first time that a Moroccan poses as a very important personality on the Internet (…) This is already a common practice in Europe and the United States.“
“There are on Facebook 41 Nicolas Sarkozy, 10 prince William of England, Many Jacques Chirac (former French president), Roger Federer, George Bush, Osama bin Laden” lamented Fouad's sister, Amina Mourtada, in the Facebook group “Help Fouad Mourtada” she created to campaign for his release. So far, 1636 members have joined the group and 1807 other have signed the Help Fouad petition.
Today, the Moroccan blogosphere is showing its solidarity with Fouad and his family. Many prominent Moroccan bloggers are on strike, such as Ibn Kafka, Larbi.org, Lionne d'Atlas, Fhamator, Ayoub, 7didane, Jihane, Eatbees, Laïla Lalami, Reda, Farid Taha. Many of them are displaying this text:
Today, Tuesday, February 19, is the fourteenth day of Fouad Mourtada's imprisonment. He committed the error, but not the crime, of creating a Facebook account in the name of Prince Moulay Rachid. This account contained no insults against the Prince nor was it the instrument of any swindling attempts. His name was immediately given wide publicity by the authorities, in breach of the presumption of innocence he's supposed to enjoy, and he alleges having been beaten and mishandled during his arrest. He initially had trouble finding a lawyer willing to defend him. The trial, due to begin on February 15, has been postponed to February 22, while his habeas corpus application has been rejected.
For this reason, this blog will be on strike on Tuesday, 19 February as a gesture of solidarity with Fouad Mourtada and the other prisoners of opinion currently jailed in Morocco.