Outspoken Moroccan rapper awaits assault verdict

CASABLANCA, Morocco Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:42pm GMT

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CASABLANCA, Morocco (Reuters) - A Moroccan rapper who has become one of the monarchy's boldest critics on Wednesday awaited a verdict after a trial on assault charges which his lawyers and right activists said were a ploy to muzzle the popular singer.

Mouad Belrhouat, better known as El-Haqed, or "The Sullen One," has become the singing voice of a protest movement inspired by Arab uprisings, demanding a constitutional monarchy, an independent judiciary and a crackdown on corruption.

The judge adjourned the case on Wednesday after an all-night hearing to consider his verdict, expected on Thursday.

The 24-year-old rapper has been in jail since his arrest in September after a brawl with a monarchist. Bail requests by his defence team have been rejected and the trial has been adjourned six times.

"The charges are a farce. El Haqed is being persecuted for his critical songs. The state is keeping him in jail and repeatedly adjourning his trial to silence him," said Khadija Ryadi, who chairs Morocco's main human rights group, AMDH.

The rapper's cutting lyrics telling Moroccans to "wise up" have angered many monarchists. In one song he raps that the king spends so much time giving orders that he has little time to count his money in Switzerland.

However, he has struck a chord with young Moroccans who are disenchanted with poor or non-existent jobs and one song "Bite just as much as you can chew" has received more than 600,000 hits on Youtube.

ALL-NIGHT SESSION

Belrhouat's trial is a test for the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which like its Tunisian peers is a moderate Islamist party leading a government for the first time after it won elections in November.

In a Casablanca court packed with Belrhouat supporters, the judge begun to hear the case in an unusually late session on Tuesday which continued through the night.

Mohamed Bouawine, one of the 24 lawyers who have volunteered to defend the rapper, said his client faces up to three years in jail if found guilty.

AMDH's Ryadi says Belrhouat has become yet another case among "dozens of prisoners of conscience" in Morocco.

Local and international right groups say hundreds of Islamists have been jailed in what they said were politically-motivated trials rushed through after suicide attacks in Casablanca in 2003, that killed 45 people.

Morocco's judiciary is meant to be given more independence under reforms crafted last year by the Arab world's longest-serving monarchy as it sought to preempt a popular revolt.

The man whom Belrhouat is alleged to have assaulted said the injury left him incapacitated for 45 days but defence lawyers produced evidence suggesting he recovered far more quickly and was being used as a political pawn.

Belrhouat's father Mohamed told Reuters he would not be supporting his son in court had the rapper done anything wrong.

"My son was set up. The police and the ambulance turned up five minutes after the incident: This never happens here."

(Reporting By Souhail Karam; Editing by Ben Harding)

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