At the end of July, Morocco‘s King Mohamed VI pardoned 1,000 prisoners to celebrate the anniversary of his coronation. Among those receiving a royal reprieve was 63-year-old Spanish national Daniel Galvan, who had served just one-and-a-half years of a 30 year jail sentence for the rape of 11 children.
Protests against King Mohamed’s decision erupted almost immediately, forcing him to reverse and publicly justify a pardon for the first time and revealing a large degree of disquiet among the Moroccan public over the powers the monarchy continues to wield.
Analysts say this political crisis is a watershed for the regime, the possible birth of public movement to question the King’s actions. Never before had a royal decision led to such anger. In a statement issued by the royal palace on Aug. 4, he said he was not aware of Galvan’s criminal record and promised an investigation into what has come to be called here “Danielgate.”
After a surprisingly quick investigation Hafid Benhachem, the head of Morocco’s prisons and close to retirement, was sacked. An international arrest warrant was issued and Galvan was arrested last Monday in Murcia in the southeast of Spain.
According to the newspaper Lakome, two lists of Spanish prisoners were merged. In the first one, 18 were supposed to be granted pardons, while 30 others on a second list were only to be extradited. In the end, 48 prisoners were released.
As soon as the news that Galvan had been released spread on July 31, thousands of people answered a call to protest on Facebook. In front of Morocco’s parliament in Rabat, on August 2nd, protesters were violently dispersed and dozens were injured, including several journalists.
This initiative was taken by ordinary citizens from different backgrounds, among them artists, intellectuals, human rights advocates, activists, and tech-savvy youths. Many were protesting for the first time.Moroccans also took to the streets in Agadir, and in Kenitra, the town where Galvan had lived. In Tangiers, Tétouan and Nador, police also intervened.Police repression of the protests, widely covered by the international media, sparked further outrage.
Even after the king’s explanation, lauded by many Moroccans, protests continued in Rabat and Casablanca, Morocco’s business capital. Their goal was not only to continue to denounce this pardon but also to demand an independent judiciary. They also asked for the king to present an apology.
“Long live the people,” “This is a shame,” “You put a shame on us, You sold us to Spain,” they chanted, addressing the king. Some also asked for the resignation of the king’s close advisor Fouad Ali El Himma.Zineb, a woman in her twenties, attended the Casablanca gathering last Tuesday with her father, who was protesting for the first time. She wanted to denounce the opaque decision-making process in the royal cabinet. “The system doesn’t work properly this way, it is not accountable to anyone,” she says.
Hassan, a 41-year-old English professor from the city of Beni Mellal who asked that his full name not be used, went out to protest more than the king’s decision. “I came to say no to dictatorship, to say yes to an independent judiciary. We are witnessing an exceptional movement. We must continue to protest and support this movement.”Critics say that in spite of this unique reaction from King Mohamed VI, there’s no real political response yet to the pardoning of a convicted pedophile.
“Despite all that the king has done, we still have no guaranty that this is not going to happen again,” says Yassin Bezzaz, an activist of the pro-democracy February 20 movement.