The jailing of a Moroccan rapper Mouad Belrhouate, aka LHAKED L7A9AD, popularly known as The Indignant, has outraged cultural activists across Africa. LHAKED is celebrated as the February 20 Movement’s “Voice of freedom” and his imprisonment has sparked a creative social-media campaign calling for his release. By SUZY BELL.
The February 20 Movement for Change was a peaceful anti-government protest by the Moroccan youth movement planned on the social networking site, Facebook. It took place on 20 February 2011 with demands for mainly constitutional reform. Those opposing the regime are now known, after the Facebook group, as the February 20 Movement for Change.
@Mamfakinch tweeted: “Help free Moroccan democracy activist & rapper Mouad Haked. Take pic of yourself w/ sign reading #FreeHaked.” The blogger-community Global Voices has reported a sudden surge in arrests among pro-democracy activists and online campaigners in Morocco, where charges are allegedly fabricated.
Calling for the rapper’s freedom at Africa’s historical first Arterial Network Creative Economic Conference held in Nairobi last week, human rights and cultural activists from Tunisia to South Africa were photographed by Artwatch Africa with a sign in Arabic making an appeal to: “Free Mouad”. Photographs of fellow activists, musicians, artists and concerned individuals across the world, holding the protest sign in their own language, have been pouring into the inbox of a young Moroccan artist and human-rights activist, Maria Karim, on her FreeMouad@gmail account.
“I started the campaign to highlight the injustice of his arrest. The idea is to make a series of Youtube videos protesting his arrest on 9 September in Casablanca,” said Karim. She used LHAKED L7A9AD’s music with stills of people from all over the world protesting by holding their hand-made signs in different languages, all of which read: “Free Mouad”.
In response to the need for monitoring freedom of creative expression in Africa, Artwatch Africa, a project of the Arterial Network, (founded by the Mimeta Centre for Culture and Development), although already active, is still in the process of being formed as voluntary watchdog. At the Creative Economic Conference in Nairobi, Dounia Benslimane, co-ordinator of Artwatch Africa said: “We want it to be known across Africa and the world that this is not acceptable. LHAKED has been vocal in our revolution and now he has been silenced. His lyrics are viewed as provocative, but all he is doing is calling for justice and dignity and respect of human rights. He is reflecting the requests of the Freedom Movement.”
Benslimane said the right to freedom of expression was fundamental to artistic practice and that artists in Africa are not excluded from the assault on freedom of expression experienced by other sectors of society such as media practitioners, opposition activists, academics, and so on. “Musicians are jailed in Cameroon, actors are arrested in Zimbabwe and writers have their works banned in a number of countries, yet many governments have signed up to African and international cultural policy instruments that commit them to supporting freedom of expression,” she challenged.
Unesco’s Recommendation concerning the Status of the Artist calls on member states to “protect, defend and assist artists and their freedom of expression”. The Unesco Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions reaffirms that “freedom of thought, expression and information, as well as diversity of the media, enable cultural expressions to flourish within societies”. The AU’s Plan of Action on the Cultural and Creative Industries in Africa adopted in Algiers in October 2008, agrees to “guarantee freedom of expression for creative and performing artists”. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
LHAKED’s arrest in this year of the Arab Spring, highlights the continued blatant lack of freedom experienced by artists on the continent. Freemuse, the respected World Forum on Music and Censorship, an independent international organisation which advocates freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide, confirmed that LHAKED’s arrest was just one of a series of arrests of artists being arrested on the continent. Martin Cloonan, chairperson of Freemuse and professor of popular music politics at the University of Glasgow said that it was the alarmingly widespread nature of censorship in music that led to the creation of Freemuse.
“Egyptian singer, Ramy Essam for example, played an important role during the Egyptian revolution and suffered severe beatings and torture as a consequence. He personifies the powerful role that music played in the Arab Spring,” Cloonan said. Time Out London declared Essam’s song, Irhal, number three on a Top 100 list of songs that changed history, calling it: “one of the most influential songs of the modern age”.
“Cameroon reggae artist Joe la Conscience has been arrested 15 times and the radio stations are afraid of playing his music,” added Cloonan. “Fellow Cameroon singer, Lapiro de Mbanga was arrested in April 2008 and is still in prison – and the list goes on.”
Moroccan rapper LHAKED remains in detention. His trial scheduled for last week was postponed. DM
To join the campaign to free jailed rapper LHAKED, send your picture to firstname.lastname@example.org, or post it on Facebook
Main photo: VOICE OF FREEDOM: Jailed Moroccan rapper, Mouad Belrhouate, aka LHAKED L7A9AD, ‘The Indignant’.
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