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Moroccan man jailed for 5 years for criticizing king over Israel ties

CASABLANCA, Morocco — A Moroccan man has been sentenced to five years in jail for criticizing the king on Facebook over the country’s normalization of ties with Israel, his lawyer told AFP Wednesday.

Said Boukioud, 48, “was sentenced to five years in prison on Monday for Facebook posts denouncing normalization with Israel in a way that could be interpreted as criticism of the king,” El Hassan Essouni said, adding that he has appealed.

Under the country’s constitution, foreign affairs are the prerogative of the monarch, King Mohammed VI.

Morocco and Israel normalized relations in December 2020 as part of the US-backed Abraham Accords.

The Casablanca court’s verdict “is harsh and incomprehensible,” the lawyer said.

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He added that despite his client’s expressing rejection of ties with Israel, he had no intention to offend the king in doing so.

Une inadmissible attaque contre la liberté d'expression au Maroc.
Saïd Boukioud, un marocain de 48 ans, a écopé lundi de cinq ans de prison en raison de publications sur Facebook où il dénonce la normalisation des relations entre le Maroc et Israël.https://t.co/PYc0IAZIAV pic.twitter.com/JzJVrGXbZZ

— Taoufiq TAHANI (@TaoufiqTahani) August 3, 2023

The posts on Facebook dated from the end of 2020, when Boukioud was living and working in Qatar.

He “deleted the posts and closed his account when he learned he was being prosecuted in Morocco,” the lawyer said.

Boukioud was convicted under Article 267-5 of the penal code which stipulates a jail term of between six months and two years for anyone who undermines the monarchy.

But that sentence can be increased to five years if an offense is committed publicly, including by electronic means.

Human rights activists say the law hinders freedom of expression, and its wording “does not specify exactly what might constitute an attack” on the monarchy.

Since normalizing ties, Morocco and Israel have boosted cooperation in areas including security, trade, and tourism.

But not all Moroccans support this, especially since the rise to power last December of the hardline coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Many Moroccans also have strong pro-Palestinian sympathies.

In a speech on Saturday marking the anniversary of his accession to the throne in 1999, the king reiterated “Morocco’s unwavering stance in support of the just Palestinian cause and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.