(Rabat) – Moroccan officials should stop making homophobic comments in the wake of a mob attack on a man in Fez on June 29, 2015.
While Justice Minister Moustapha Ramid has said the assailants should be prosecuted and two suspects are in custody, he has made several anti-gay statements since the assault. He said that homosexuals should avoid “provoking society,” and that citizens must not “enforce the law themselves” – as though the victim had been breaking the law due to his appearance. The Justice Ministry frequently prosecutes men under the country’s anti-homosexuality laws.
“What the person in charge of justice in Morocco should be announcing in the wake of this gay-bashing incident is a zero-tolerance policy toward such attacks,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “Instead, he goes around making statements that suggest that people perceived as gay are abnormal and share the blame for anti-gay violence.”
The beating began at about 1:30 a.m., June 29, when a taxi driver ejected a male passenger after a dispute, shouting repeatedly that the passenger was a “khanit,” local pejorative slang for a homosexual or effeminate man, the victim told Human Rights Watch. A crowd surrounded the man and pummeled him, knocking him to the ground as they continued their attack, a scene that was captured on cell phones and posted on Moroccan news websites. In the videos the victim appears to have long hair and to be wearing a white robe. “The taxi driver’s yelling caused this whole thing,” he said. “I didn’t invite this attack or deserve it. I’m like any other person.’’
On July 1, the police announced the arrest of two 30-year-old suspects. At a first hearing on July 7, the Fez court refused to provisionally release the suspects and scheduled a second hearing for July 23. Moroccan media reported that they are being charged with assault. Fifty-five lawyers from several regions of the country, many representing Moroccan human rights organizations, have offered the victim legal support.
A policeman aided by a few youths eventually extricated the victim, who was taken to a police station, where he remained until noon the following day. The police questioned him about the beating but filed no charges against him.
Human Rights Watch is aware of a series of cases in which men have been prosecuted and imprisoned under article 489 of Morocco’s Penal Code, which provides a prison sentence of between 6 months and 3 years for “acts against nature when committed between members of the same sex.” Many of the trials appear to have been unfair, including two 2014 cases. In May, a first instance court sentenced three men in Taourirt to three years in prison for alleged homosexual acts in a private setting. The case is before the Oujda Appeals Court.
Morocco should abolish article 489 and decriminalize all sexual relations between consenting adults, Human Rights Watch said. The combination of a country that enforces anti-gay laws, a justice system that denies a fair trial, and the social stigma attached to homosexuality is a formula for serious violations of the rights to privacy and equality and other basic rights.
In addition, the criminalization of “unnatural acts” – and the demonstrated pattern of prosecutions of men perceived as gay, even when the evidence of a sexual act is weak or non-existent, inhibits victims of anti-gay violence from filing a police complaint.
In a recent forum on proposed updates to the Moroccan Penal Code prepared by the Justice Ministry earlier in 2015, Minister Ramid said article 489 should be retained and that any attempt to decriminalize homosexuality would cross a “red line.” The draft revisions maintain the provision’s language and prison terms, but increase the associated fines from 200 – 1,000 dirhams (US$20 to $100) to 2,000 –20,000 dirhams (US$200 to $2,000).
On July 6, a week after the Fez attack, Ramid declared that “homosexuality will not be allowed in Morocco, [otherwise he] would resign.” He also said that he “won’t take the responsibility for defending (homosexuality) before Allah,” the news website Alyaoum24.com reported.
Speaking about the Fez attack, the minister said, “We should not let people enforce the law themselves ... but the persons involved should not provoke society, because society is like this.”
In an interview on Chada FM, he said he favored surgery for a man who “inside, is a female and acts like a female.” But he said that when, instead, a man “keeps the appearance of a woman, and furthermore, has sexual practices that do not suit his [gender], then it becomes a matter of law.”
The World Health Organization has explicitly maintained since 1990 that “sexual orientation by itself is not to be considered a disorder.” The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders as early as 1973.
Criminalizing consensual, adult homosexual conduct violates international human rights law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Morocco has ratified, bars interference with the right to privacy. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has condemned laws against consensual homosexual conduct as violations of the ICCPR. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has held that arrests for consensual homosexual conduct are, by definition, human rights violations.
Morocco’s 2011 Constitution should also be interpreted to protect all adults’ private, consensual acts, whatever their sexual orientation. The Constitution states, in article 24, “All persons have the right to protection of their private life.” This right, absent in the previous constitution, should lead to decriminalizing consensual same-sex conduct. The Justice Ministry should ensure that no one is prosecuted for crimes in violation of international law.
“The justice minister can’t have it both ways,” Whitson said. “He concedes that it’s a crime to assault someone based on his appearance but then insists that being gay is an abnormal condition that society rejects and should remain criminalized.”