Talking with Moroccan free speech activist Maria Karim, a day before her trial
A voice of Morocco's democracy movement speaks to VO the day before her trial.
I first spoke to Moroccan civil liberty activist Maria Karim in May, before her friend and colleague, rapper Lhaqed (the enraged) was sentenced to one year in prison for insulting authorities with a music video made for his song Kleb Adawla, Dog of the State.
Tomorrow, Karim will stand trial for allegedly insulting a prosecutor representing the state in the Lhaqed trial.
Then as now, I was impressed by Karim's laughter – it creeps up at the most inopportune moments in our conversations.
“In Morocco, we don't need Kafka,” she said today, over the phone from Casablanca, laughing.
“Every day in our country is a testament to absurdity.”
It's not for me to say if the laughter comes from fear, existentialism, indifference – feigned or real or a courage of conviction. Here is a transcript of our conversation:
VO: What are the events that led up to your trial tomorrow?
MK: Officialy, I am being sued by a prosecutor of the state for having brought injury to a lawyer in the trial of Lhaqed, where he was prosecuted for one of his songs – Kleb Adawla – and sentenced to one year in prison.
We are friends. We met each other while I was filming February 20th activities last year in Casablanca (Morocco's democracy movement is referred to as the February 20th, after the date when Moroccan protestors started taking to the streets). We were inspired by each other during the movements because of our appreciation of art, rap.
I'm an artist in images – in photography and documentary, and Lhaqed was particularly interesting because of his belief in his songs and rap's power to change society.
When he was arrested, it was a huge injustice.
That day, I stopped filming documentaries – symbolically. I was no longer a neutral party in the movement.
I worked in movement to free him in his first imprisonment. I hoped to show who Lhaqed was and all the injustice he suffered as part of the injustices Moroccans suffer as a whole.
At Lhaqed's trial, everything was in Qur'anic Arabic (as opposed to Moroccan dialect). I had to struggle to understand. The lawyer was aggressive and surreal with everything he was saying about Lhaqed. It filled the court with absurdity, so I started laughing. The judge told me to calm down. That's the judges responsibility – to create calm.
That was when the state prosecutor called me a vulgar word. He said, 'look at this (expletive) how she is vis-a-vis the judge.'
I told him, excuse me, you can't interrupt a discussion between me and the judge. That was when the lawyer spun out of control, saying that I had disrespected him.
The judge suspended the trial – I apologized to both the judge and the lawyer in a private audience. But I did ask if that lawyer had the right to interrupt our exchange, and the judge confirmed he did not.
The judge said in front of the assembly that I presented my apology and the lawyer had accepted.
But I was leaving court house to get a coffee, and the police halted me. A commissioner said need to take you to nearby office...
They took me to the commissariat. They asked me questions totally unrelated – why I was doing activism. They never recited my rights. I refused to respond.
I was then detained for 48 hours. I kept my cell very clean. I respected the law.
The judge had re-assured the court that he never made any order for my arrest. But it turns out that once a lawyer has lodged a complaint against someone, a commission of lawyers – not unlike a union – needs to decide whether or not to drop the case.
This is the fifth time you have appeared in court in this case. What have these trials been like?
I have spoken out for myself. I said this is an injustice. But when you don't believe in a judiciary and its transparency, it's like playing a game where someone on the outside is holding all the cards.
What's absurd is that I am not even being sued by the judge I had the exchange with. It's someone else from his team (acting as the plaintiff).
In Morocco, we don't need Kafka. Every day in our country is a testament to absurdity. Absurdity is our everyday lives.
What kind of outcome do you anticipate in this trial?
For me, this trial is a question of my innocence. To say what their intention is – whether or not they will put me in jail – is impossible. We are in Morocco. Anything can happen.
Some say Morocco hasn't seen as many changes as Tunisia or Egypt in the recent revolutions. You are still involved with freeing imprisoned activists. What, would you say, is the status of the February 20th movement?
I would never say the movement has failed. It's still very strong. The Moroccan people have realized their indignation and their ability to question their everyday.
There is a new Moroccan being reborn.
The movement isn't just people who go out every Sunday and protest. We have all planted something new in the heads of Moroccans – that there is more to life than the totalitarianism of the makhzen (Morocco's priveleged ruling class).
For me, I think people in the international community have to keep on injustices that happen because of lack of freedom of speech in Morocco.
I want to ask people to listen to Lhaqed. His rap is in Arabic. Not everything is translated in English – that's what I want from people: Translate Lhaqed in every language possible. He carries the anger as a child of society- he has paid for his people's iberty with his body in prison.
Carrying on the voice of Lhaqed is to carry on the voice of millions of young Moroccans.
We were already working on his next album – the one he recorded before he was imprisoned. We are still in the studio, but it will be out in no time. Six tracks. It will be called: Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death.
What are your feelings about tomorrow? Are you worried at all?
Not at all! I am strong by my convictions. My convictions will follow me wherever I go on earth. I am poor for what I have. I have nothing to lose. I have everything to gain.
Lhaqed's Baraka min elskate (No more silence):
<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/tKDQaRjvSzM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
If the people want life,
Then they stand up to defend their rights. No more silence!
They exploit our wealth and leave the crumbs for us
While many freedom fighters died on our behalf.