By Tarek Bazza
Amid the uproar over the harsh sentences given to the Hirak Rif activists and journalists, many Moroccan human rights activists are worried about the negative impact the court’s ruling could have on Morocco’s human rights image internationally.
However, Mohamed Abdennabaoui, President of the Prosecutor General’s Office, seems less worried about international opinions, despite the fact the heavy sentences handed down against Hirak Rif activists have been followed by international media and human rights organizations.
Abdennabaoui said that human rights and individual freedoms, as sensitive issues, should be interpreted according to the culture of each country. He implied there are some human rights which are not accepted by Moroccan culture. “There are secular states and others where religion, cultures, and customs have an important position. There is a new generation of human rights that is not accepted by all cultures.”
‘There are no freedoms without limits’
When asked about Morocco’s laws punishing homosexuality, extramarital sexual relations, or proselytizing to Muslims in Morocco, Abdennabaoui gave conservative answers.
He did not deny that individual freedoms are part of human rights, but said they are determined by the culture, religion, and customs of each society. “There are no freedoms without limits. All freedoms are determined by law…. We cannot criminalize facts that are not punishable by law, and vice versa.”
Abdennabaoui noted that freedom of belief is guaranteed in the country as long as it remains in the private sphere and does not extend to proselytizing, which is punishable by up to three years in prison.
The news outlet described Abdennabaoui as intransigent when he said that there is no room for tolerance of public eating during the month of Ramadan. It is an act “that violates the law” and “disturbs public order,” he answered.
“The law is the collective conscience of the society that created it, and interpretations only fit with the jurisprudence…. If I stop applying existing laws, I will provoke disorder. Democracy is the application of law.”
Morocco’s image abroad is not of much importance according to Abdennabaoui. What matters to him instead is Moroccans’ opinion. “What worries me is what the Moroccans say and not the Europeans, because the law is carried out in Morocco.”
The debate on individual freedoms “should be resolved in Parliament,” he said, because the role of the prosecutor’s office is to ensure respect for the law and maintaining order. But since Abdennabaoui is concerned about Moroccans’ opinions, one is left asking why he does not side with those who have expressed outrage over the sentences given to the Hirak Rif activists.
“The individual is part of the community; if he commits a tolerable act I apply the principle of granting opportunities, but if what he does affects the common memory, in this case I position myself with the community.”
“I can contribute in cases where there is no conflict of public order, [but] we cannot play with fire. It is not about being modernist or conservative, it is a matter of public order,” he said. The Spanish outlet noted that this was “an expression he kept repeating and to which he returned again and again.”
Concerning accusations of Morocco torturing political prisoners, Abdennabaoui asserted that torture practically does not exist in the country since the government recently established mechanisms to control police stations and detention centers. “There may be cases of mistreatment, but the state does not admit these practices.”
Although the Spanish media follows Morocco’s political issues closely and the Hirak activists’ case is a hot issue, the outlet did not ask Abdennabaoui about it. Previously, Abdennabaoui told local media that the 20-year sentences were legally the minimum punishment for four activists convicted of a capital crime while participating in the 2016-2017 Hirak protests.
Despite holding a high position of authority and influence in Morocco, Abdennabaoui came off as less than diplomatic in the interview, especially on the sensitive issue of human rights. Abdennabaoui’s conservative positions could undermine Morocco’s major efforts to promote its public image over the last 10 years.