Moroccans Finally Said It: "The King Is Pardoning Pedophiles"

The visible displeasure of Moroccans over the past week has shaken the government all the way up to the top: The almighty king of Morocco was compelled to issue a declaration after days of protests, backtracking on a decision he had taken a week earlier.

It seems that popular pressure does work. Sometimes.

At the heart of the controversy -- "Daniel Gate," as it's come to be known in Morocco -- is Spanish man in his early sixties, Daniel Galván Viña, who was found guilty in September 2011 of sexually assaulting children and sentenced to 30 years in prison. His 11 victims were as young as four-years old at the time. The main pieces of evidence in his trial were the videos of the rapes that he filmed himself.

The pardon came at the request of Spanish King Juan Carlos II, who requested the monarch's grace for 48 imprisoned Spaniards. How and why Galván was included in the list remains unclear; but in any event, the king acquiesced to the request in late July. Moroccan royalty have a history of issuing pardons on holidays. Galván was pardoned on July 30, commemorating Morocco's "Throne Day," the anniversary of King Mohammed VI's accession to the throne.

Rightfully angered, Moroccans organized protests countrywide. They protested not only Galván's release, but also the recent increase of sexual tourism, child abuse, and the system that allowed Galván's pardon to happen both unbeknownst to the country's judiciary and against the will it expressed less than two years ago.

Unfortunately, the state dealt with the protests in the only way it knows how: police violence. Not only in the capital Rabat, where thousands protested in front of the parliament, but also in Tanger, Tetouan, and in the city of Kenitra where Galván was imprisoned. The violence not only incensed the protesters further (naturally) but also revealed itself as a lost opportunity for the government to align itself with the people (for once) around the cause of protecting children from abuse. Rather than siding with Moroccans, the state exposed itself to direct criticism as being the defenders of pedophilia, especially when it comes to foreign criminals; a very unsavory position to find themselves in indeed.

The debacle and its potential for escalation led the king to intervene -- twice. First, on Saturday, August 3, the royal palace issued a statement which stated that "His Majesty King Mohammed VI, may god help him, was never informed in any way nor at any time, of the gravity of the heinous crimes for which the person was convicted" and that naturally the king wouldn't have agreed to release him had he known. The statement ends with promises of a full investigation into how it came to be that Galván was released.

The very next day, after the first communiqué failed to calm protests, King Mohammed VI revoked the pardon altogether and asked his minister of justice to address the issue with his Spanish counterpart. By then Galván had already returned to Spain.

Two days later, Galván was arrested by the Spanish police. It is unlikely that he will be extradited back to Morocco, but he may serve the rest of his sentence in a Spanish prison. Meanwhile in Morocco, the king is meeting with the families of Galván's victims and public anger is subsiding slightly. But the fallout from the public outrage will remain.

The king's cancellation of his pardon may have succeeded in deflecting some of the popular anger, but his role in the debacle will remain under public scrutiny, as the entire institution of the royal pardon is coming under heavy fire. While it has become common practice for the monarch to issue pardons on national holidays, the process remains opaque. Renowned columnist Sanaa Elaji writes that "we all know the pardon has become a lucrative card in the hand of mafia that sells this grace at prices varying according to the crime"; she goes on to assert that in any event, there are no known regulations for the royal pardon, no legislative check, no clear person responsible for the pardon lists, and no crimes that are deemed too egregious to be beyond the king's grace.

Many local and international news outlets are now suggesting that it really was an honest mix-up; the list of criminals to be pardoned was merged with a list of those to be extradited to Spain as per a 1997 agreement between the two countries allowing Spanish prisoners in Morocco, and vice versa, to be repatriated to serve out the rest of their sentence. The theory goes that since the king truly didn't know the particulars of the names on his list that he ended up freeing the entire lot. El Pais also suggested [Sp., Fr.] that turf wars between the ministry of justice and the Royal Palace were the reason behind the mix-up. This is unlikely to ease the tensions of protesters who will attempt to maintain pressure to extract, at the very least, reforms in the royal pardon process.

The problem however is that this case is not the first royal pardon of foreign pedophiles. Moroccan activists and media have uncovered a 2010 WikiLeaks diplomatic cable detailing Morocco's problem with human trafficking and sexual abuse. The cable references a report from the NGO Touche Pas A Mon Enfant (Hands Off My Child) that mentions the case of two French pedophiles who got away with an initial slap on the wrist before being pardoned by the king and sent home, most likely in honor of Morocco's 50th year of independence. Galván was probably the first such criminal to ever receive a serious sentence.

Another brewing scandal connected to the same list of pardoned criminals involves a drug dealer sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was freed after having done less than a tenth of his time; a twist of fate that surprised even his father.

Further political repercussions will unavoidably follow. As opposition parties and activist groups condemned Galván's pardon and the institutions that allow such things to happen, their protests were also very critical of the government, the Makhzen and even the prime minister whose silence was viewed as a desire to not to upset the Royal Palace.

The dust will settle promptly enough, but Daniel Gate won't be swept under the rug any time soon.

Mohamed El Dahshan is the Egypt blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here.



First Libya's Lady Lawyers Fought Qaddafi, Now They're Fighting for Their Jobs

Recently I spoke to Amera Ali, a young lawyer from Tripoli, who had little good to say about the current situation. During the early days of the Libyan revolution, Ali took to the streets as part of a lawyers' movement to protest the killing of anti-Qaddafi protesters. As she was putting her life on the line, I am sure she never dreamed that the end of the conflict would bring a-not-so subtle campaign to drive women out of the judicial and legal profession altogether. 

With conservative forces on the rise, leaflets preaching the importance of wearing the hijab have started appearing; distributed to female lawyers who do not wear one by religious men who observe the strictest forms of sharia. "The voice of women in a council of men is an act of shame, even if she is reciting the Quran," say one of the leaflets, a hint that women should not be working in courts altogether. The campaign goes on to threaten the non-compliant with kidnapping and rape by sending anonymous messages to them. Some lawyers have even had their family members targeted via messages on their phones and Facebook pages. 

The pressure does not stop there. Female lawyers are increasingly being constrained to practice only family law. Many are forced to hand over their criminal cases to male lawyers due to threats by defendants and the government's inability to protect them; even in the courtroom. In some instances, their supervisors have served female lawyers with unjustifiable warning notices, tarnishing their professional records and delaying their clients' trials. 

As with so many other aspects of Libya's transition, the precarious security situation in Libya is responsible for complicating matters. Criminals and convicts, many of them heavily armed, are freely roaming the streets. "The situation has become very dangerous and scary for lawyers in Libya," said Ali. The recent assassination of prominent lawyer and activist Abdulsalam al-Mesmari in Benghazi has led many to reconsider their profession, she added. 

Worse than the criminals themselves, however, are the bystanders who do nothing when witnessing a crime. This general tendency toward inaction leaves criminals free to do what they please whenever they please, dramatizing the weakness of the legal system. Libya's lawyers and citizens (both male and female) have been intimidated into a state of indifference during the last two years. 

Marginalizing women is just another way to break the backbone of Libya's legal system. The judiciary's autonomy has been under consistent threat due to blatant interference by the country's politicians. The General National Congress (GNC), Libya's interim legislature, has undermined the judiciary by making some of its legislation beyond judicial review; the most famous being the political isolation law that led to the resignation of former-President Mohamed al-Magariaf.   

However, these are not the only challenges facing the judiciary and legal professionals in Libya. In the past year, Libya has witnessed an increase in the attacks on judges and lawyers. Lawyers, judges, and activists have been the targets of assassination (here and here). These attacks led Lawyers for Justice in Libya to voice concern over the lack of security for the judiciary in post-revolution Libya.

What's particularly odd about this phenomenon is that women have been allowed to work and serve as judges since 1981. The first woman judge was appointed by the Qaddafi regime in 1991, and estimates put the number of women judges at 50 as of 2010. There are about 600 female lawyers that stand to be affected by these tactics in Tripoli alone. If they were to quit, as 25 women recently did, it would be detrimental to rebuilding Libya's legal system. 

The judiciary is critical to the well-being of post-revolution Libya. It is evident that a functional legal system, one that protects rights and redresses wrongs, is vital to restoring the peace and stability to such a war-torn society. Only with a sound legal system -- and a fair, impartial, and independent judiciary -- will people trust their disputes to the state, and refrain from the vigilante score settling that signals the breakdown of the rule of law in the country. 

For this reason, Libya's female lawyers are integral to the building of a new country. They have been very vocal in support of human rights and women's rights and other civil society organizations. If they continue to be sidelined, and remain absent in bodies like the Supreme Court, it would silence a crucial voice in one of Libya's most important institutions. 

Mohamed Eljarh is the Libya blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here.