Hisham Almiraat and Zineb Belmkaddem contributed reporting to this article.
Moroccan blogger and rapper Mouad Belrhouat, also known as El-Haqed (“the enraged”) was arrested on May 18 in Casablanca. Mouad was stopped and searched by police at the stadium entrance of a football match that he had planned to attend. According to friends who witnessed the incident, the police recognized Mouad and explicitly targeted him. One officer said “I have scores to settle with you.” An argument ensued and he was arrested soon after.
Activist and friend of the group Zineb Belmkaddem interviewed Hamza Belrhouat, Mouad’s brother, following the arrest. On her blog, she quoted Hamza:
It looked as though it was premeditated, they acted as if they had already planned to brutally assault us both at first, arrest us, take our belongings, beat us some more, then keep Mouad in custody….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.
This is the latest of various attempts by Moroccan authorities to silence the 27-year-old rapper. Known for his controversial political lyrics, Mouad became a leading voice within Morocco’s February 20 pro-democracy movement of 2011. He was arrested in September of that year on spurious charges related to political activism and spent four months in prison. In 2012, he was arrested once again and convicted of insulting the regime, a charge based on his hit song “Dogs of the State,” in which he compared state police to dogs.
In February of this year, authorities blocked a press conference that Mouad and his supporters intended to organize in Casablanca to launch his new album, Walou.
This time around, Mouad has yet to be issued charges. Local news site H24 reported contested allegations that he had attempted to buy tickets to the match off the black market, while a local print tabloid reported that he was informally accused of being drunk. In the video below, taken by his friends, Mouad shows no noticeable signs of intoxication.
He remains in police custody, pending a hearing that is scheduled to take place on May 22.
At the close of her post, Belmkaddem reflects on the significance of the arrest for political activists in Morocco today:
Mouad is strong. Young people listen and relate to what he shares, and the makhzen [regim] keeps trying to avoid putting people in jail for very long stretches. The catch and release tactic is used to benefit from the occasional “Activist Freed” headline. But for activists who randomly and unfairly keep experiencing this nightmare, it is a tragedy. The regime’s strategy consists of attempting to ruin lives and break people with opinions one random arrest at a time….one absurd sentence at a time.