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Morocco: Barça Fan Jailed for Superlative Statement

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Western Europe, Morocco, Spain, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Law, Media & Journalism, Sport, Technology, Youth

Many bloggers were shocked last week to learn that a young Moroccan man had been sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for what seemed like such a minor “crime.” The young man, a Barça (FC Barcelona, a soccer team) fan, allegedly wrote “God, Nation, Barça” on the blackboard at his school. Morocco's motto is “God, Nation, King.”

Although FC Barcelona has already announced [1] [es] they will support the young man and take whatever action is possible, precious little is known about his case.

Laila Lalami offers up information [2]:

Moroccan judges seem to be in a competition to find out who will issue the most excessive, most ridiculous, and most embarrassing ruling for the country. The latest example comes from the town of Ait Ourir in the province of Marrakech, where a high school student named Yassine Belassal was arrested, tried, and promptly sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for insult to the king because he allegedly wrote “God, Nation, Barça” on the blackboard.

Morocco’s motto is ‘God, Nation, King’; Barça is the Spanish soccer team FC Barcelona.

Belassal is in his senior year and also a national champion in karate. He may or may not have had legal representation at his speedy trial; he may have written the motto on a wall outside or on the blackboard in class; he may have acted alone, or with a group of three friends; his last name might be Belassal or Ait Ben-Lassal—the facts of the case are somewhat unclear. What is clear, however, is that he is now in prison, serving a sentence at the Boulmharez jail, for what seems like a harmless case of football hyperbole.

Blogger Adilski takes a sharp look [3] at the sentencing:

On a light note, a commentator on Al-Arabiya [4] website said the teen was arrested because the king is a fan of Real Madrid. On a serious note, though, most probably the king was not aware of the incident when it took place. It must have been some angry teacher or principal who reported the incident to the Gendarmerie, who in their turn tried to “impress” and presented the kid to the court. Zealous and sycophant prosecutor and judge threw the kid in prison, hoping for few taps on the shoulder.

Moroccan blogger Ibn Kafka [fr] has questions about the case:

1- Peut-il être condamné à une peine d’emprisonnement, s’il s’avère qu’il n’est pas majeur?
2- Aurait-il été condamné s’il avait remplacé “Allah” ou “al watan” par Barça au lieu d’”al malik”?
3- La procédure pénale a-t-elle été respectée dans le cas de Yassine Belassal?

1 – Can he be sentenced to imprisonment, if it is not a major crime?
2- Would he have still been convicted if he had replaced “Allah” [God] or “Al Watan” [country] with Barça instead of “al malik” [king]?
3 – Has criminal procedure been observed in the case of Yassin Belassal?

The blogger provides an in-depth analysis of the case in French, musing on issues such as Belassal's age, the nature of his crime, and the laws surrounding it. He concludes that if Belassal is in fact a minor (a fact which has not yet been made clear), then Morocco has violated its obligations under the 1989 Convention on the Rights of Children.

In addition to the multitude of bloggers covering the case, a Facebook group [5] has also been set up in support of Belassal. Stay tuned to Global Voices for more updates.