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MOROCCO: World's first Facebook felon freed

Justice failed him, but the king’s word set free a man who was sentenced to three years in a Moroccan prison for a Facebook prank.

FouadFouad Mourtada’s crime was to create a fake Facebook account in the name of Moroccan Prince Moulay Rachid, the brother of King Mohammed VI.

It’s not normally a big deal. If you search the social networking site, you’ll find fake profiles for George Bush, Nicolas Sarkozy, Osama Bin Laden and many others. The 26-year-old engineer said he believed it was just a “fun” thing to do.

But royal authorities were offended. They condemned him. Mourtada was  summoned to a Casablanca courthouse. During his trial, Mourtada insisted the creation of the profile was just a joke. In a statement to the Committee of Support for Fouad Mourtada, the detainee said that he admired the prince, and did not think his act was hurtful:

I never thought that by creating a profile of his highness prince Moulay Rachid I was harming him in any way. I, as a matter of fact, did not send any message from that account to anyone. It was just a joke, a gag.

Nevertheless the judge sentenced him to three years in the slammer.

But not only may Mourtada be the first person in the world sentenced to prison for something he posted to Facebook, he may also be the only guy tortured for it.

He says in prison we was “beaten up, slapped, spat on, insulted and slammed for hours with a tool on the head and the legs.”

He served 25 days before the king pardoned him this week in honor of the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed. But it might have been more than royal mercy that got Mourtada released. The case has stirred a tremendous international outcry.

Once he was put behind bars, supporters rallied, creating a website to call for his release. Others protested in the streets with small rallies in Rabat, Morocco; Amsterdam; Brussels; Paris; Washington; Montreal (see video above); Madrid; and London.

Media and human rights activists continue to focus on the case, which they still call unjust. Reporters Without Borders welcomed the royal pardon, but criticized the ruling: "We regret that his liberation was due to a royal pardon and not a fair verdict. "

Davigh Karamanoukian in Beirut

Photo: Fouad Mourtada, 26, shown with an unidentified child. Credit: Helpfouad.com; Video: Among the many videos of pro-Fouad Mortada demonstrations posted to YouTube.

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