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Morocco: Formerly Jailed Blogger Bashir Hazzam Tells His Story

Bashir HazzamTarhjicht is a small town in southern Morocco, some 200 kilometers south of the city of Agadir. It's a picturesque village on the edge of the Sahara desert, whose serenity is punctuated by five ritual daily calls to prayers.

On December 2, 2009, this peace was interrupted by the clamors of local students protesting their difficult situation and lack of a decent infrastructure. The peaceful march was violently confronted by the authorities who proceeded to arrest a number of students. Later that day, an ad hoc committee was created to support the arrested protesters. It issued a statement calling for the immediate release of the students and condemned what it described as “harsh and barbaric treatment” by the authorities. Bashir Hazzam, a blogger from the region published the statement [Ar] along with links to a video taken at the scene. A couple of days later, Bashir, and Abdullah Boukfou, the owner of the Internet café frequented by the blogger, were arrested and accused of “publishing false information harmful to the image of the country on human rights.” An Internet campaign of support followed, backed by calls from international human rights organizations to release Bashir and his colleagues. However, a court in the neighboring city of Guelmim sentenced the blogger to four months in prison while his prison mates received even harsher sentences.

Nevertheless, campaigners and supporters from all over the world mounted pressure on the Moroccan authorities. Bashir was released on February 8, 2010, two months after his arrest.

In the following interview Bashir tells his story.

Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

أشكر الطاقم المشرف على موقع الأصوات العالمية الذي أتاح لي هذه الفرصة للتواصل مع قراءهم الاعزاء وكما أشكرهم على مساندتهم وتضامنهم معنا في قضيتنا وأتمنى لهم دوام التوفيق والتألق.
أنا البشير حزام من مواليد 1982 بتغجيجت تلقيت تعليمي الابتدائي والإعدادي بهذه المنطقة، ثم السنة الأولى والثانية ثانوي ببويزكارن حصلت على الباكالوريا سنة 2002 بتغجيجت، التحقت بعدها بكلية الشريعة بأيت ملول – أكادير تخرجت منها حاصلا على الإجازة في الشريعة والقانون سنة 2008. انخرطت مبكرا في العمل الجمعوي ضمن أنشطة الجمعيات المحلية وفي الأنشطة التلاميذية ثم الأنشطة الطلابية في صفوف الاتحاد الوطني لطلبة المغرب، عضو جماعة العدل والإحسان،واخيرا مدون منذ سنة 2007.

First, I want to thank the team working for Global Voices Online for giving me this opportunity to connect with their readers, and for their support and solidarity with me and my cause. I wish them more success and progress.
My name is Bashir Hazzam. I was born in 1982 in Tarhjicht where I received primary education, then moved to Bouizakarne for my secondary education. I got my baccalaureate in 2002 in Tarhjicht, then joined the Faculty of Sharia (Islamic Law) at Ait Melloul in Agadir, from which I graduated in Sharia Law in 2008. I engaged very early on in associative work within local associations and was involved in student activities with the National Union of the Students of Morocco (UNEM). I'm a member of the Justice and Charity group (a de jure banned Islamist group, also known as Al-Adl wal-Ihssan or Al-Adl), and also a blogger since 2007.

How did you discover the blogosphere and what do you write about in general?

اكتشفت عالم التدوين الالكتروني عندما كنت طالبا حيث اطلعت على مجموعة من المدونات واستنتجت أن هذه الاخيرة تمكن صاحبها من نشر افكاره بطريقة سهلة وبدون رقابة وبمجانية ، واعجبني ذلك كثيرا فأخدت بالبحث عن كيفية انشاء المدونة وهذا ما تمكنت منه ،فأنشأة مدونتي بموقع مكتوب وبالظبط في الاول من سبتمبر من عام2007 وأطلقت عليها اسم مدونة البشري ونشرت خلالها المقال الاول بعنوان الوعود الانتخابية: حقيقة ام خيال وبالمناسبة فقد تم التحقيق معي من قبل المحققين حول مضمون هذا المقال عندما اعتقلت في دجنبر الماضي، أما بالنسبة لكتابتي فتنصب حول القضايا السياسية الوطنية والدولية ،والفكرية والدينية …

I discovered the world of blogging when I was a student: I came across a number of blogs and realized that blogging enables people to publish their ideas easily, without control and for free. I liked the idea so much that, after a brief research, I ended up creating my own blog on the Arabic blog publishing website Maktoob. That was back in September 1th, 2007. I chose to call it Al-Bushra (The Good News). My first post was titled: “Electoral Promises: Facts or Fiction.” By the way, I was interrogated by the police about the content of this article when I was arrested last December. As for my writings, I generally blog about national, international political, intellectual and religious issues.

To what extent has blogging and the Internet in general helped you in your life and activities?

إن فضاء التدوين بوابة مكنتني من تبادل الاراء والافكار مع العديد من المدونين والكتاب والتواصل معهم في مختلف الاماكن في العالم ،وهو الامر الذي استفدت منه العديد من الاشياء الايجابية في حياتي ،رغم أني حديث العهد بهذا المجال فاعتقد ان مع مرور الوقت سأكتشف أمورا أخرى جديدة ومهمة تمكنني من تطوير مساري في هذا المجال عامة وفي حياتي خاصة باعتبار أن عالم الانترنيت يمتاز بالسرعة والتجديد بشكل كبير وهو ما يجعل الاستفادة تتحقق منه لمن يحسن الابحار في هذا العالم الواسع.
The blogosphere enabled me to exchange views and ideas and communicate with many bloggers and writers from around the world. This had a positive impact on my life. Though I'm new to this field, I believe that with the passage of time, I will be able to discover new and important things that will help me improve my blogging and everyday life skills. The Internet is growing so fast, which makes the use of it highly beneficial for those who master it.

After your arrest with Abdullah Boukfou and others, the authorities claimed they had done so because you published “false information harmful to the reputation of Morocco.” Do you agree with this version of events? How do you explain the reasons behind your detention?

لاأوافقها نفس الرأي أبدا لان مضمون البيان لايضم ولو مصطلح يسئ الى سمعة أو مصلحة البلاد مطلقا، وكل من اطلع على مضمون هذا البيان يؤكد أنه عادي ولايضم أية اساءة لسمعة البلاد الى حد أن المحكمةالابتدائية قررت بأن البيان ليس فيه ما يسيء الى البلاد وبالتالي برئتني من تلك التهمة وتابعتني بتهمةالمشاركةفي التجمهر المسلح رغم أني أصلا لم أشارك في ذلك اطلاقا وهو الامر الذي استغربته كثيرا .
أعتقد أن أسباب اعتقالي هو من أجل ايقاف التغطية الاعلامية للأحدات التي وقعت بتغجيجت بعد التدخل العنيف للقوات العمومية ضد الطلبة لعزل المحتجين والساكنة التي تضامنت معهم، لكي لاتصل الحقائق الى الراي العام الوطني والدولي وبالتالي فهم يريدون فرض التعتيم على احداث تغجيجت التي أشعلت السلطة فتيلها .
في الحقيقة تهمة الاساءة الى سمعة البلاد على مستوى حقوق الانسان يجب أن توجه الى السلطة المحلية التي قامت بممارسة العنف بشتى أنواعه على المحتجين والمعتقلين الذين طالبوا بحقوقهم البسيطة و بطريقة سلمية وحضارية وليس نحن الذين نشرنا الحقائق التي وقعت على ارض الواقع واصبحنا ضحايا الاستبداد الذي يمارس على الشعب من حين لاخر .
I completely disagree with the official version because the statement [I published on my blog] does not include any term that could cause harm to the reputation or interests of the country. And anyone who takes a look at the content of this statement can confirm that it is perfectly harmless, and that it does not include any insult to the country's reputation. To the extent that the Court decided the statement was inoffensive and acquitted me on this specific charge, but still it prosecuted me on the charge of participating in an armed protest, even though I did not participate in the demonstration in the first place. This is something that surprised me really.
I think the reason behind my arrest was to impose a media blackout around the events that occurred in Tarhjicht, after the violent intervention of the security forces against unarmed students and the population that sided with them. They are trying to prevent the truth from filtering to the public.
In fact, the charge of insulting the country's reputation on human rights should be directed at the local authority which committed violence of various kinds against protesters and detainees, who simply demanded their rights in a peaceful and civilized way. We should never have been blamed. We have published the facts that occurred on the ground only to become victims of the tyranny met upon the population at random.

How were you treated during your detention? And do you think you received a fair trial?

معاملة المحقيقين معي كانت جيدة اللهم بعض الاستفزازات في بداية التحقيق ،أما المحاكمة فلم تكن منصفة بعد ان تم الحكم علينا بالحبس النافد لمدة أربعة أشهر في حقي وسنة في حق عبد الله بوكفو مسير نادي الأنترنيت وستة أشهر نافدة في حق ثلاثة طلبة وفي حق المدون اليديب بوبكر رغم أن مجريات المحاكمة تسير نحو تبرئتنا من التهم المنسوبة الينا وكان شعورنا يسير في اتجاه ذلك ،لكن تفاجأنا عند النطق بالحكم واعتبرنا نحن وهيئة الدفاع ان القضية متحكم فيها من قبل السلطات. حتى أن الاحكام جاءت متفاوتة خاصة أن التهم التي وجهت لي هي نفس التهم الموجهة الى عبدالله بوكفو لكن الحكم مختلف وكان قاسيا في حق بوكفو .

Except for some sporadic provocations at the beginning of the investigation, officers treated me well. The trial was not fair: I was sentenced to four months in prison, Abdullah Boukfou, the owner of the internet café, to one year, while three students and blogger Boubaker Al-Yadib (who was since released) received a six-month sentence. The trial was moving towards clearing us of all charges when, against the odds, the verdict was pronounced against us. We, and our defense team, felt that the process was controlled by the authorities. So much so that the verdicts were so unequal, particularly as the charges against me were the same as those filed against Abdullah Boukfou, but he ended up receiving a harsher sentence.

There were several interpretations of your release from jail: some said it was an implicit recognition by the authorities of their “mistake,” others suggested it was a public relations exercise to save the reputation of the country abroad. What's your take on this?

صحيح كل هذه الامور التي أوردتها قد تكون هي الدافع الذي جعلت السلطات تتراجع عن قرار حبسنا والذي لايخدمها في شيء،بل يشوه صورتها وسمعة البلاد خارجيا .

All these things might be true. Those indeed might have been the motives behind the authorities’ decision to retreat from their initial stance, that has only distorted the image and reputation of the country abroad.

Has the campaign of solidarity in your opinion, influenced the course of events? Do these campaigns really matter?

أجل ،الحملات التضامنية التي قادها المدونين بالمغرب وخارجه بقيادة جمعية المدونين المغاربة، والتضامن الواسع من الهيئات الحقوقية الوطنية والدولية وعلى راسها منظمة مراسلون بلاحدود، ومنظمة فريدوم هاوس، و كذا الاعلام المرئي والمسموع، ساهم بشكل كبير في التأثير والضغط على المسؤولين لاطلاق سراحنا ،فبفضل مجهودات هؤولاء، بعد فضل الله تعالى، انعمنا بالحرية بعد أن امضيت شهرين من السجن، فلولا هذا الضغط لبقينا وراء القضبان، كما أن انتمائي لجماعة العدل والاحسان شكل ضغطا كبيرا على السلطات باعتبارها اكبر قوة سياسية معارضة بالمغرب وساهم كل ذلك في اطلاق سراحنا.

Yes, campaigns of solidarity conducted by bloggers in Morocco and abroad, led by the Moroccan Association of Bloggers, and broadly supported by national and international human rights organizations, particularly Reporters Without Borders, Freedom House, as well as the media, have contributed significantly to influence and pressure the officials to release us. Thanks to the efforts of all those -and praise first be to Allah- I regained my freedom after two months spent in prison. Without their campaigning, I would have remained behind bars. Also, my affiliation to Al-Adl, has brought a significant pressure to bear, as it is the largest political force of opposition in Morocco. All those factors have eventually contributed to my release.

How would you characterize freedom of expression in Morocco, especially on the Internet?

وضعية حرية التعبير ببلادنا في تراجع مستمر وتقهقر ،ولاشك أن الارقام الصادرة حول هذا الشأن من قبل المنظمات الدولية خير دليل على ما أقول ،حيث وضعت المغرب في خانة الدول التي لاتحترم حرية التعبير ولاشك ان الواقع كذلك يشهد بذلك من خلال الاعتقالات والمحاكمات للعديد من المدونين والصحفيين والحقوقيين والمعارضين السياسين بسبب ابداء أرائهم لاغير ،أما بالنسبة لحرية الانترنيت فهي كذلك أصبحت الدولة تفرض عليها رقابة كبيرة وهذا يتضح من خلال الهجمات التي لحقت المدونين وآخرها اعتقال السلطات لمصمم موقع ” أفضل حاكم دولة في العالم” عبد اللطيف أوييس [قبل اسابيع] وهومتابع الان في حالة سراح..
وهذا يعبر بالملموس بأن أيادي وعيون المخابرات المغربية امتدت الى عالم الانترنبت غير أن ذلك لن يؤثر بشكل كبير أمام هذه الثورة المعلوماتية التي أصبحت يوما بعد يوم تخيف الانظمة المستبدة.

Freedom of expression in our country is plummeting and is in constant deterioration. Figures from international organizations shore up this claim, placing Morocco among countries with the least regard for freedom of expression. Reality as well supports this perception with a succession of arrests and trials of many bloggers, journalists, human rights activists and opposition figures, harassed solely because of their views. As for freedom over the Internet, the state increasingly wants to impose its control on it. This has been made evident after the attacks suffered by bloggers and the latest arrest, a couple of weeks ago, of a web designer, Abdellatif Ouiass, creator of the website “The World's Best Head of State,” although he has since been released on bail.
This shows clearly how the hands and the eyes of the Moroccan intelligence services want now to extend to the Internet. This, however, will have no significant impact given the extent of the information revolution, which each day overpowers repressive regimes.

After all that's happened, have you changed the way you blog or write? Do you have self-censorship?

لن يؤثر علي ذلك أبداً. كلا لم يحصل ذلك فأنا لاأزال أحتفظ بنفس الاسلوب رغم الاعتقال التعسفي الذي طالنا ،وذلك كله لن يغير افكاري وأرائي في شيء باعتبار أن لكل فرد قي هذا العالم حرية ابداء أرائه والتعبير عنها كيف ما شاء وبدون رقابة ما دام أن ذلك لايخالف القوانين المعروفة في هذا الشأن.

What happened will not affect me. Despite the arbitrary detention, I kept my writing style intact. It will not affect my thoughts or my views. Everyone in this world has the right to express her/his opinions without censorship as long as that does not contradict laws, that are well known in this regard.

What advice would you have for bloggers in Morocco, and in the world who fear the wrath of their governments or regimes?

أدعوا كافة الشباب الى الاستفادة من تقنيات هذا المجال الفسيح لابراز مؤهلاتهم ومواهبهم والتعبير عن طموحاتهم وتطلعاتهم عبر ولوج عالم التدوين لكسر التهميش الممنهج للدول الاستبدادية لفئة الشباب من أجل الوصول الى النهضة الحقيقية لهذه الدول لمواكبة التطور الحاصل في الدول المتقدمة، شريطة الانضباط للاخلاق والحوار الجاد والمسؤول واحترام خصوصيات الاخرين ، دون الخوف من الاعتقال أواستبداد الانظمة التي لاتحترم ارادة شعوبها مادام أن ماينشره المدون لا يخالف القانون في شيء.

I would invite people to take advantage of technologies offered by the Internet to highlight their skills and talents, and express their ambitions and aspirations through blogging, so as to break the systematic marginalization imposed by authoritarian states, especially on the youth. That's a way for those countries to reach real progress and keep pace with developed nations, provided that expression remains disciplined, responsible and respectful of the privacy and specificity of others. There shouldn't be any fear of arrest or the repression that hinders the will of the people, as long as what is published by the blogger does not violate the law.

Do you have a final word for those who stood in solidarity with you?

في الأخير أود من خلال هذا المنبر الإعلامي الحر أن أتقدم بالشكر والعرفان لكل من ساندني خلال هذه المحنة وعلى رأسهم جمعية المدونين المغاربة و كافة المدونين والنشطاء داخل الوطن وخارجه الذين تضامنوا معنا و أشكر هيئة الدفاع وجميع المحامين الذين آزرونا و كل المنابر الإعلامية وإخواني في جماعة العدل والإحسان و كافة المنظمات الحقوقية الوطنية والدولية وخاصة منظمة فردوم هاوس ومنظمة مراسلون بلا حدود و كل ذوي المروؤات الذين ساندونا وأبدو تضامنهم معنا في جميع أنحاء العالم. وندعوهم الى الاستمرار في هذا التضامن حتى يتم الإفراج عن مسيرنادي الانترنبت عبد الله بوكفو ومصمم موقع ”أفضل حاكم دولة في العالم” عبد اللطيف أوييس المتابع في حالة سراح وكل معتقلي الرأي في سجون البلاد.

In the end, and through this free outlet, I wish to extend my thanks and gratitude to each one of those who supported me during this ordeal, especially the Moroccan Association of Bloggers, all bloggers and activists in and outside the country, who have shown great solidarity with me. I also thank my defense lawyers, media outlets that highlighted my case, my brothers in the Justice and charity group, and all national and international human rights organizations, especially Freedom House , Reporters Without Borders and all those throughout the world whose conscience has led them to support my case. I urge upon them to continue their solidarity until Abdullah Boukfou, Abdellatif Ouiass (who's now released on bail) and all prisoners of conscience in the prisons of the country are released.

5 comments

  • Thanks for doing this interview Hisham! It is really helpful and worthwhile to have the case explained in the blogger’s own words.

    I’m glad Bashir is now free, and I hope the Moroccan state will learn to better distinguish in the future between peaceful protest and self-expression, and dangers to security as they claim, so tragedies of this sort can be avoided.

    It seems that if the trial had gone fairly in the first place, this could have been avoided, so maybe we should look there, to a strong independent judiciary.

    I’m glad that Bashir isn’t intimidated and will keep expressing his views. Since I’m an optimistic guy, I hope that (in the long run) cases of this sort will lead to more freedom, not less.

    What’s clear is that blogging is encouraging more Moroccans to play an active role as citizens.

  • Thanks so much for sharing this story.

  • […] Hisham of Al Miraat has published an interview on Global Voices with blogger Bashir Hazzam, who was sentenced to four months in prison for blogging about a […]

  • […] tradotto da Davide Galati · vai all’articolo originale […]

  • Thank you for sharing the story. I appreciated the fact that the story was told in the blogger’s own words.

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