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Morocco jails YouTuber, detains activist over criticism of authorities on social media

Rights group says the prosecution of social media users, who voice anger at social and economic conditions, is an attack on free expression
King Mohammed VI ceded some powers to elected government after Arab Spring protests in 2011, but still has final say on important issues (AFP/file photo)

Authorities in Morocco have jailed a man for four years on charges he insulted the king on YouTube, and arrested an activist who defended anti-government protesters on Twitter.

A court in Settat, some 135 km (84 miles) south of the capital Rabat, handed Mohammed Bekkaki a four-year prison sentence on Thursday for criticising King Mohammed's speeches and referring to Moroccans as "stupid" and "donkeys" in a video he posted on YouTube last month.

The royal family is widely revered in Morocco and criticising the king is a criminal offence.

Bekkaki was also fined 40,000 dirhams ($4,150). His lawyers said he would appeal the verdict.

Meanwhile, rights activist Omar Radi was detained in Casablanca on Thursday and charged with insulting a judge on Twitter.

Radi's arrest was prompted by a tweet he made six months ago where he criticised a Moroccan court's decision to hand heavy prison sentences to leaders of the 2016-2017 Rif protests.

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Radi was remanded in pre-trial custody, his lawyer Miloud Kandil said, and his next hearing was scheduled for 2 January. 

If convicted, Radi could face up to a year in prison and a $555 fine. 

Free speech advocates denounced the moves saying they reflected growing pressure against those who use social networks to express anger at economic and social problems.

The group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the decision to place Radi, who once worked as a journalist, "in detention for tweets from last April".

Meanwhile, Freedom Now, a Moroccan rights group, said the prosecution of social media users - who voiced anger at social and economic conditions - were an attack on free expression.

Morocco's criminal code punishes "insulting magistrates" with imprisonment of between one month and one year.

The cases come after the Moroccan Human Rights Association had deplored in July an "escalation of violations of human rights and public and individual freedoms" in Morocco, AFP said.

King Mohammed VI ceded some powers to an elected government after the Arab Spring protests in 2011, but still has the final say on important issues.

In its latest annual press freedom index, RSF ranked Morocco 135th out of 180 countries.