Marrakech, Morocco – A demonstration ended in bloodshed and violence on Friday in Morocco when hundreds of protesters gathered outside the parliament in Rabat in a show of outrage over the royal pardoning of a convicted pedophile.
“The police hit everyone really hard. It was really violent,” said Houda Chaloun, 32, from Casablanca who was at the demonstration. “I have never seen in the past two years such a violent repression of any kind of gathering,” she said in a phone interview.
Last Tuesday, 18 months after his sentencing, 63-year-old Daniel Galvan was pardoned by Moroccan King Mohammed VI. Galvan is one of 48 Spanish prisoners, who were released from custody as a courtesy gesture following the visit of Spanish monarch King Juan Carlos.
According to reports, protests were violently dispersed in several cities in Morocco on Friday evening.
The conviction of Galvan was the result of an unprecedented court decision, validated by Morocco’s Supreme Court: the man accused of abusing 11 children was sentenced to 30 years in prison in a country where sentences against pedophiles have often been minimal.
“The pardon threw away one of the most important court decisions in the history of Morocco,” Hamid Krayri, the victim’s lawyer told Al Jazeera. “This man took advantage of vulnerable, poor children and it was the first time a pedophile got such a harsh sentence in Morocco.”
Social media reaction
Maria Karim, a film-maker and activist is one of the internet vigilantes, who have been raising awareness on the web – relaying every detail on the case. She has been glued to her computer for the past few days in the hope of getting the attention of as many people as possible.
“I haven’t left my computer because I realized people were looking for excuses [for the king’s action] and I felt that it was my duty to get to the bottom of it,” she said. “This decision humiliates the victims of a sexual predator and sends out a message of impunity to the other predators, who are still free.”
An investigation must be urgently expedited. A pedophile belongs in prison.
Meanwhile, on social networks, many are calling for the resignation of Morocco’s minister of justice, Mustapha Ramid. However, a statement published on the ministry’s website indicates the royal cabinet is to blame and stating that the ministry is not involved, nor responsible, for preparing the list of those to pardon.
“The constitution gives His Majesty the king the right to pardon like other presidents and kings in the world,” the statement reads. “The royal decision was undoubtedly dictated by national interests. And because it has benefited a criminal, the person was deported and banned from entering the country altogether.”
The palace is yet to comment on the matter, but even royal backers have called for an inquiry.
“An investigation must be urgently expedited,” tweeted Khadija Rouissi of the Authenticity and Modernity Party, a political party close to the palace. “A pedophile belongs in prison.”
Still, Najat Anouar, the president of “Hands Off My Child”, an anti-pedophile group that traditionally hunts down pedophiles, did not want to question the royal action and told reporters that the king is the sole judge of who should or should not be pardoned, making the online community even more irate. A few hours after her declarations, the website of the organization was hacked.
“Morocco is sexual tourism’s Mecca, sad to say, and the authorities are acting like pimps and accomplices,” tweeted prominent Moroccan blogger Ibn Kafka.
But it is not the first time foreign pedophiles have been able to walk out of Moroccan prisons following a pardon. Two wikileaks cables in 2010 exposed the release of two French pedophiles.
In 2004, a man in possession of more than 140,000 child pornography videos and 17,000 photos, was sentenced to four years in prison. However, his sentence was later reduced to two years before he was pardoned having served no time in jail.
In the second case, a French national was caught having intercourse with a 16-year-old boy. He was charged with committing a homosexual act and sentenced to a two-months suspended sentence.
Following the latest scandal, some politicians are calling for change. Nabila Mounib, secretary general of the Unified Socialist Party, said this was the time for the regime to do some soul searching.
What I am afraid of, is that people already have little faith in the justice system, and in the future other victims may not denounce such crimes because they don’t believe justice will be served.
“We are asking for the pardon of this abject crime to be annulled,” she said in a phone interview. “There is no reason for this pardon. We need to be given more information about how this works and we cannot admit such excesses.”
And Moroccans are asking that the processes, which allowed Galvan to walk free, are made more transparent.
“I don’t think the pardon can be canceled, however, it is time to lift up the opacity around how these things are done,” said Chaloun, the IT engineer and blogger who supports feminist causes who attended the sit-in in Rabat. She says the scandal should be the opportunity for a real reform of the justice system.
“Beyond the fact that justice is not independent in Morocco, we live in a rentier system where we don’t really know why certain people benefit from certain things,” she added. “It is also time to question the political responsibility of the king. By law and constitutionally, he remains unaccountable.”
However, according to Mohammed Messoudi, a human rights lawyer in Casablanca and a member of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, there is no law that dictates the conditions of a pardon.
“The constitution gives the right for the king to pardon,” he said. “There is a commission at the justice ministry that puts together a list that is validated by the royal cabinet. But there are no set rules.”
In the meantime, victims say they have had to face the fact the man who hurt them has been released and has the possibility of hurting others.
“Today, my parents called me to tell me that my brother tried to kill himself when he saw on the internet that the monster was pardoned,” wrote the brother of one of the victims on Facebook. “When I asked him why he did it, he told me: nobody fought for my rights, so I’d rather hurt myself.”
Activists however are determined to get justice or to prevent others from suffering the same fate.
“We hope to put together a group to reassure the victims,” Karim, the filmmaker, said. “What I am afraid of, is that people already have little faith in the justice system, and in the future other victims may not denounce such crimes because they don’t believe justice will be served.”