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Calls for release of Moroccan man jailed for sharing 'blasphemous' cartoon on Facebook

Morocco has jailed a man for insulting Islam [Getty]

Date of publication: 29 July, 2020

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Mohammad Awatif Kachchach was jailed for six months for sharing a cartoon online.
Human rights campaigners have called on Morocco to quash the conviction of a man arrested in May for sharing a cartoon on social media that was deemed blasphemous by authorities.

Mohammad Awatif Kachchach, who works for Youssoufia city council, saw his six-month jail sentence for "insulting Islam" upheld by an appeals court earlier this month.

In addition to his jail sentence, Kachchach was handed a 3,000 dirham (US$327) fine for sharing a satirical depiction of the Prophet Muhammad being sent to a psychiatric facility after saying he is God's messenger.

A Moroccan court deemed Kachchach's sharing of the satirical cartoon on Facebook as contravening Article 267(5) of the criminal code and prosecuted hi, for insulting Islam.

Kacem El Ghazzali, a Moroccan-Swiss secular activist and Humanists International's representative at the UN, said that Kachchach's prosecution is a step back for Morocco after recent progress towards free speech.

"One of the main demands of the Arab Spring Youth in Morocco was freedom of speech and thought. The 2011 constitution came as a positive response to these calls, and many Moroccans were hopeful that Morocco had embarked on a new path to gradually work towards guaranteeing freedom of expression," El Ghazzali said.

"Unfortunately, we continue to monitor how the Islamic government has violated the constitution by adopting laws that restrict and criminalise freedom of thought and expression, such as Article 267(5)."

Kachchach's legal representative, Abdelwahed Birzouk, also highlighted the implications of Article 267(5) of the Morrocan criminal code for free speech.

"The Moroccan constitution of 2011 gave great importance to human rights. Unfortunately, there are chapters in the criminal code which limit these rights. Such as article 267(5) which clearly restricts freedom of belief and thought to the point of criminalising them," he said in a statement.

Article 267(5) was introduced in 2016 and states that anyone "who offends the Islamic religion or the monarchy, or incites against territorial integrity" is liable to a jail sentence of between six months to two years and/or a fine of up to 200,000 dirhams (US$21,420).

In May, Moroccan actor Rafik Bouber was detained after a video emerged where he made remarks about Islam that authorities considered blasphemous.

Bouber was released after making a public apology and paying a $500 fine.

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