If the Moroccan authorities meant to silence the dissident Moroccan rapper El Haqed by locking him up in a prison cell on trumped up charges, it didn’t work. The first thing he wanted to do when he stepped out in freedom after four months imprisonment was go to the studio and record more of the music which got him in trouble in the first place.
Text and photo by Nadir Bouhmouch, Freemuse
In July 2014, El Haqed (real name: Mouad Belghouat) was sentenced to four months in prison by a court in the suburbs of Casablanca. He was released from prison on 18 September 2014. Freemuse travelled to his home to hear his perspective on what happened.
What did the court charge you with after you had been arrested in May? And what is your response to these charges?
“They charged me with scalping football game tickets, public drunkenness and assault of a police officer. But I did not do any of these things. I was going to watch a football match with my brother and was in the process of buying the tickets when they arrested me. I think that the real reason for my arrest was the album I released at the time. They couldn’t really find a reason to arrest me when I released it, so they found an excuse. They always come up with trumped up charges. This is the way they work, this is how most Moroccan political prisoners are put behind bars.”
Could you talk to us about your album ‘Walou’?
“I was trying to talk about the reality of the conditions we live under, and who is behind the creation of these conditions. To them, I crossed a line because I spoke about the monarchy and distribution of wealth. They have built a house that looks very nice from the outside, but what I’m doing is describing how rotten it is on the inside – how the vast majority of Moroccans live in poverty and just a few have all the wealth. I think we can do better than this.”
What was the trial at the Court of First Instance like?
“After I was arrested, at first I didn’t want to go to the court. I told myself I had no reason to be there because there are a lot of flaws in the judicial process. The outcome was already clear so why would I go? But in the end I decided to start going to court because I saw it as an opportunity to get to see my friends. Otherwise, everything was clear in terms of how they were going to judge me because there were many flaws and contradictions in the reports provided to the judge. Instead of charging the policemen who assaulted me and arrested me in an illegal manner, they charged me. Also, they didn’t allow my friends to come into the court. My lawyer asked for the doctor who wrote my medical certificate after my arrest. The court refused his request. We also asked for the policeman who was charging me with assault to come give his testimony. He never came. In Morocco we still have a long way to go before we have a real judicial process. You don’t go into a Moroccan court feeling that there is a sense of justice.”
What were the conditions like in the prison?
“I can’t say the conditions in prison were fine, but I felt fine. I tried to push myself to be fine. I read, wrote new songs, met people. I also performed concerts for the prisoners in the prison yard. There is a theatre made for concerts in the prison, but of course they didn’t allow me to perform there. I did everything I could to make the most of the time I had to spend inside.”
Were you treated differently from other prisoners?
“The treatment was different. They are afraid of people who confront them and demand their rights. They were always watching me. Eventually they put me in solitary confinement because they couldn’t figure out how I could be in prison while new songs were being published even so.”
You went on hunger strike for a couple days in August. What were the reasons behind this hunger strike and how did the prison authorities react to it?
“I decided to start a hunger strike because they confiscated lyrics I had written. They searched me in a very bad way, cut out certain types of articles from the newspapers that I received, and didn’t allow me to speak on the phone. Like I said, they also put me in solitary confinement and put two guards to watch me. But I told them, ‘this isn’t right!’, because they’re wasting a lot of the Moroccan people’s money – 10,000 dirhams for the guards per month and I’m not even a dangerous criminal! In the end, the office called me and they made concessions to my strike and that’s when I stopped. But I was inspired from all of this. You can go through something like this and let it destroy you, or you can use it to do something good.”
How did you feel when you were released? What was the first thing you wanted to do?
“The first thing I wanted to do was go to the studio and sing. But a free person is the person with emancipated thoughts. So no matter what they do to you, even if they lock you up, you remain free and you experience things as a free person. Of course I was happy to come out and see my family, to see my pigeons, to go to the beach, to have a cold beer and smoke.”
You’ve been free for a little over a week so far. Have you been harassed or pressured by the authorities in any way?
“There is always surveillance. I feel some one listening on my telephone conversations and following me in the street. But that doesn’t bother me. I do what I do and they do what they do.”
Both your lawyer and the prosecutor have filed an appeal after your sentence in May. The court has postponed the appeal several times and now it is scheduled for 13 October 2014 after you have served your entire sentence. So you may see your sentence extended. How do you envision the manner by which this trial will unfold?
“I don’t expect very much from the Moroccan judiciary. The Moroccan judge is not independent. The king is the highest authority in the Moroccan judicial process. There are no laws that guarantee that the judge will truly look into a case. How does a judge accept a police report drafted by the policeman who is himself the plaintiff? So although I have no confidence in the process, I will go and say that I am innocent. But I don’t expect miracles.”
A lot of human rights organisations here and abroad have been campaigning for your freedom. How do you see their efforts?
“They play a big role. When I was arrested, they put a lot of pressure on the state and they exposed a regime that pretends it is democratic for what it really is. They are especially useful because they put out information when the Moroccan press doesn’t. Of course I can have disagreements with some of these organisations – but generally I have a positive view of their work.”
Congratulations for your nomination for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize. How do you feel about this nomination?
“I think it’s good especially because it undermines the state narrative which tries to humiliate me through various trumped up charges. At the same time, I am aware that even within the European Parliament there are good people and bad ones. But once again, I have a positive view of this award.”
» Al Jazeera – 6 October 2014:
My journey to rap, politics and prison
“Morocco’s leading rapper-cum-activist says he’ll choose the path of rap and resistance every time, at whatever cost.”
By El Haqed
» Previous article about El Haqed on artsfreedom.org:
Dissident rapper Mouad El Haqed released