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Middle East

Imprisoned Moroccan rapper announces hunger strike

  • (FILES) A file picture taken on January 12, 2012 shows Mouad Belghouat (R), nicknamed "Al-Haqed", a young Moroccan rapper known for his anti-monarchy lyrics, celebrating his release from the Oukacha prison in Casablanca. (AFP PHOTO /CHAFIK ARICH)

RABAT, Morocco: A Moroccan rap artist imprisoned for writing a song alleging police corruption has gone on hunger strike to protest prison conditions, his brother said Monday.

Moroccan rapper Mouad Belghouat - known as El-Haqed, "The Enraged" - was convicted May 11 of "showing contempt" to public servants with his song "Dogs of the State".

Aderrahim Belghouat told The Associated Press that his brother "is forbidden from using the phone in prison, is harassed by the other prisoners and the guards are constantly searching his stuff - often very late at night."

The strike "is a warning for the prison administration," he said, adding that the fast will last for 48 hours.

Lawyers for Belghouat appealed his conviction in a court hearing Monday, but the case was adjourned until July 23 to grant the rapper more time to prepare his case.

Belghouat was active in the pro-democracy February 20 movement. He wrote songs attacking the king for his wealth and lyrics that highlighted the inequalities in Moroccan society, but "Dogs of the State" created the most uproar.

Police particularly objected to a video montage posted online with the song which included an image of a police officer with the head of a donkey.

"You are paid to protect the citizens, not to steal their money," the lyrics read. "Did your commander order you to take money from the poor?" Other lyrics ask the police to arrest the wealthy businessmen, who Belghouat raps have divided the country for themselves.

New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch in May condemned Belghouat's conviction, highlighting that even as he was being imprisoned for his music, Morocco was hosting international music artists - including Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz - in a star-studded Mawazine festival.

The conviction was Belghouat's second. The singer, who comes from a sprawling Casablanca slum in western Morocco, was jailed for four months last year for getting into a fight with a regime supporter in the gritty, low-income suburb of the city where he now lives. His supporters say the charges were trumped up. He was released Jan. 12 in a case that mobilized the country's activist community.

Morocco was swept with pro-democracy demonstrations like many other countries in the Middle East last year, but King Mohammed VI managed to defuse popular anger with a series of reforms.

 
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