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Moroccan rapper gets one-year jail sentence for 'insulting police'

Rapper Gnawi criticised government officials and raged against corruption in viral video
Amnesty International called Gnawi's prosecution a 'flagrant assault on the right to freedom of expression' (Facebook)

A Moroccan court has sentenced a rapper to one year in jail in a case that has raised concerns about a crackdown on free speech in the North African country.

A judge in the capital Rabat on Monday found the rapper, who is known by his stage name Gnawi, guilty of insulting the police in relation to a viral social media video.

In addition to jail time, the judge also ordered him to pay a $103 fine.

In the video, Gnawi appears with a bleeding nose and hurls insults at the police.

He said he posted the clip after being "mistreated by police", Reuters reported.

While the Moroccan government has insisted the case was about enforcing laws against insulting public officials, the rapper's supporters say the charges are evidence of a crackdown on dissent.

Free speech advocates said Gnawi's arrest earlier this month was actually connected to a song called "Long Live the People", which was released in late October.

In the song, the rapper rages against corruption and government officials. 

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"Our protectors are our thieves; everything is understood, no need to name names," goes one line of the song, which features two other artists.

The song also indirectly rebukes the country's king, which is a criminal offence in Morocco.

The title of the song appears to counter the motto, "long live the king".

Moreover, in one verse, Gnawi raps that "the prince of addicts wears selham [a traditional Moroccan cape]" in an apparent reference to King Mohammed VI, who is known as "the prince of believers".

Amnesty International had called the prosecution of Gnawi a "flagrant assault on the right to freedom of expression".

"The arrest of Moroccan rapper Gnawi is an outrageous assault on free speech. He is blatantly being punished for expressing his critical views of the police and the authorities," Heba Morayef, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director, said in a statement on 13 November.

But police lawyer Abdelfattah Yatribi said the "trial has nothing to do with freedom of expression".

"This is a penal code matter," said Yatribi, as reported by Reuters news agency. 

Gnawi's real name is Mohamed Mounir, and he previously served in the Moroccan armed forces.

He can appeal Monday's sentence.