Moroccans are holding demonstrations across the country to demand an independent judiciary after King Mohamed VI pardoned and then sought the arrest of a paedophile convicted of raping and filming his sexual assaults on multiple children.
The release of Daniel Galvan Fina, a 62-year-old Spanish national, from a Moroccan prison as part of a slew of royal pardons on the country’s Throne Day, July 30, drove thousands to the streets in the nation’s capital Rabat on Friday night.
Paedophiles from around the world must know that Morocco isn’t a country that sells its children in its sex trade
The demonstrations eventually led to the pardon being repealed and Galvan being detained in Spain where he had escaped to.
Protesters have descended on the streets of kingdom's major cities, including Casablanca - an industrial city in the nation’s northwest - demanding transparency and accountability in the government.
Organisers say, angered citizens, who used candles at the Casablanca protest, are calling for tougher laws on paedophilia and the kingdom’s sex trade.
"Paedophiles from around the world must know that Morocco isn’t a country that sells its children in its sex trade," Maria Karim, a demonstration organiser told Al Jazeera.
Another demonstration organiser, Fadel Abdellaoui, told Al Jazeera that they wanted "an independent justice system so that we don’t have another Galvan".
While the king’s move to revoke the pardon was welcomed and met protester demands, Abdellaoui said he felt the gestures "were not moves intended to start real reforms".
In 2009, a US diplomatic report called Morocco "a source, destination and transit country for men, women and children trafficked for the purpose of forced labour and commercial and sexual exploitation".
The report said that in 2008, Rabat "prosecuted 200 individuals for 'inciting' children into prostitution or sexually abusing children", but "the government did not report the number of individuals convicted or punished for trafficking offenses".
|Spain judge orders child rapist stay in jail
Spanish authorities apprehended Galvan on Monday after which a judged remanded him into custody as he was considered a flight risk.
He fled from Morocco on Wednesday, where he was serving a 30-year sentence for raping at least 11 children from the ages of three to 14, the prosecutor for the victim’s families, Hamid Krayri, and Galvan’s own lawyer, Mohammed Benjeddo, told Al Jazeera.
Estimates from police and activist sources place the number of Galvan’s victims as high as 20, but say that many declined to participate in legal action against him.
King Mohamed VI said the pardon was an error after public outcry.
He met the families of the Galvan’s victims, according to a statement from the palace on Tuesday.
Activists note that a previous statement, which declared the pardon a mistake and said that the king was unaware of Galvan’s presence on the list, stated Moroccan "public opinion" as the reason for reconsideration.
"Until then, there was never any discourse directed by public opinion," Karim said.
The monarch also fired Hafid Benhachem from his role as the kingdom’s head of prisons.
The paedophile issue is basically a trigger to public discontent over broad political changes that the monarchy promised.
North African Affairs consultant Arezki Daoud told Al Jazeera that placing blame for the royal pardon on Benhachem is "political jockeying".
"They blame the administrator Benhachem, and that guy works for the [elected] government", not the crown, Daoud said, explaining that there has long been a tension between the crown and elected officials.
In 2011, in response to mass demonstrations calling for democratic reforms in the wake of similar movements across the Middle East and North Africa, the Moroccan monarch oversaw the creation of a new constitution and constitutional referendum that was expected to relinquish some of his power to elected officials.
"In some ways, his promises to divest from responsibilities happened here and there. But from the point of view of the demonstrators, that’s irrelevant. The monarchy calls the shots," Daoud said.
"The paedophile issue is basically a trigger to public discontent over broad political changes that the monarchy promised," he added.
Moroccan palace authorities did not respond to an interview request at the time of the publication of this report.