Moroccan Rapper Behind Bars While Justin Timberlake Performs A Few Miles Away

 Image circulating from the campaign in support of El-Haqed, bringing to attention the state's role in detaining local artists, while sponsoring international artists at the Mawazine Festival.

Image circulating from the campaign in support of El-Haqed, bringing to attention the state's role in detaining local artists, while sponsoring international artists at the Mawazine Festival.

I'm going to keep talking even though it may seem like I'm not going to change anything. – L7a9ed, “Walou.”

Rapper and activist Mouad Belghouat, popularly known as L7a9ed or El-Haqed (the Indignant) has been detained in Morocco since May 18 2014, on what his supporters say are trumped-up charges. 

This is the third time the widely popular 25-year-old rapper has been arrested since his song, Stop the Silence became the anthem of Morocco’s 2011 “Arab Spring” uprising.

While El-Haqed, who is known for being critical of the Moroccan government, awaits trial on several charges, of one which involves black market tickets to a football match, the state is hosting international music stars Justin Timberlake and Alicia Keys. Moroccan activists behind the Free L7a9ed campaign want these artists to pay attention to the Moroccan government's role in detaining local artists like El-Haqed.

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Image from the campaign calling for the release of Mouad Belghouat (commonly known as El-Haqed or L7a9ed). Image from FreeL7a9ed.

History of arrests

The rapper was first arrested after an alleged altercation between him and a royalist in 2011. His supporters maintained that those charges were trumped up too. He was released after a campaign that mobilized the country's activist community.

His second arrest in 2012 was over an anti-police song “Dogs of the State” and was directly linked to his music. 

The circumstances of El-Haqed's latest arrest, which took place at a football match in Casablanca, are disputed.

Days before he was dragged off by police, the rapper mocked Morocco's King Mohamed VI on Facebook. Under Moroccan law, the King is considered “inviolable.” But the Moroccan constitution also guarantees “freedom of thought, opinion and expression in all its forms.” 

The people accompanying the rapper to the football game, including his brother Hamza, claim that El-Haqed's arrest was premeditated.  Moroccan activist, Zineb Belmkaddem writes:

As soon as he got to the gates with his brother and his friends, police approached them and immediately targeted Mouad. One officer made it clear that he needed to settle something with him. Police then accused him of buying tickets from the black market, and proceeded to beat him and his brother into submission when he objected and denied their allegations. They cuffed him shortly after and took both brothers, while allowing their other friends with the same regular tickets to run. 

Zineb interviewed El-Haqed's brother Hamza who gave details about the the violent nature of the arrest:

They hurt him badly in his hands, I saw the marks…they dragged us into one of those blue police vans and beat us even more. The aftertaste is always horrible. They insulted us and attacked us for five hours during the interrogation. It was so humiliating. They took my smartphone, then took us to the fifteenth (name of one of the police stations in Casablanca). They then kept my things, let me go, and kept Mouad locked up.

History of intimidation

In an interview with Freemuse, an organization that fights music censorship, El Haqed’s attorney, Mohemed Messoudi gave details about the extent to which El Haqed has been pushed in the corner by the state: 

He has just released an album called Walou which means ‘Nothing’ (nothing has changed in the fields of justice, education, democracy, there is too much corruption and we are living under a dictatorship, with torture, etc…). The presentation (sic) of the album has already been banned by the Moroccan authorities. There has also been several of Haqed’s concerts that have been vetoed […]

you can not find this album in stores in Morocco, as Haqed criticizes the Moroccan political system, no distributor agrees to cooperate with him, the only option is direct sale to people who are interested in his music and also via social networks Facebook, Youtube

El-Haqed's trial has been postponed three times since May 18. As he sits in a Casablanca jail, several kilometers away in Rabat, the 13th state-sponsored International Mawazine Music Festival is taking place. This year's lineup features a number of international artists, including Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys and Ricky Martin.

The Free L7a9ed campaign

Responding to the Moroccan government's arrest of El-Haqed, while sponsoring dozens of international musicians, Moroccan activists launched a campaign asking for artists to express their solidarity with El-Haqed. Below is a video calling for artistic solidarity to demand his release:

The video directs and invites those in support of El-Haqed to sign a petition and letter calling for El-Haqed's release, which has already drawn the support of local and international artists, including Ramy Essam, Arabian Knightz, Massive Scar Era, Justin Adams, and a number of others

El-Haqed's family, friends, and supporters await for the latest news as his trial is set to resume this week.

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