Morocco indicted a cleric on Tuesday for calling for the murder on religious grounds of a local newspaper editor who urged greater sexual freedoms in the conservative Muslim country.
In a YouTube video posted last month, Abdallah Nahari berated Mokhtar Leghzioui, editor of secular-leaning al-Ahdath al-Maghribia newspaper, after he told an Arab television channel that he would not stand in the way of his mother and sister if they wished to have sexual relationships outside of marriage.
“What does religion call this kind of person? A pimp. And what does the law reserve for a pimp? Kill whoever has nothing to be jealous of,” Nahari told a handful of followers on the video that has been viewed more than 200,000 times.
Morocco has an Islamic-inspired penal code that bans sex outside marriage and Moroccans buying alcohol, but the authorities favor a tolerant brand of Islam in which young couples display affection in the street and locals often outnumber tourists in bars and night clubs.
Although no harm has come to the editor, a court official in the northeastern city of Oujda said Nahari would have to respond to the charge of “outright incitation to murder.”
“Nahari has been interrogated by criminal police since early July. Now, an examining judge will interrogate him to build up a case,” the official said.
It is the first time such a charge has been brought against a citizen since 2003, when the law was changed to allow only members of the Supreme Clerics Council, chaired by the king, to issue the edicts after a suicide attack in Casablanca.
It comes after the Justice and Development Party (PJD) became in December the first Islamist party to lead a Moroccan government, riding a wave of support for Islamist movements inspired by the Arab Spring revolts.
The PJD’s rise has brought the role of religion back into the heart of politics in a country ruled by an ancient monarchy that claims descent from Prophet Mohammad to legitimize its authority.
Nahari is a well-known preacher whose fiery Friday sermons have often angered secular-leaning newspapers. He is especially popular among the poor of Oujda because of his charity work in a country that has widespread poverty and illiteracy.
Nahari also slammed calls by the main AMDH human right group to decriminalize sexual relationships outside of wedlock.
“This is Morocco for you. They want to legalize what is prohibited … And the clerics are silent,” Nahari said, calling human right activists in Morocco stooges of the West.
Justice and Public Freedoms Minister Mustafa Ramid, a PJD member, quashed any debate by telling parliament that sex outside marriage would remain illegal, angering many rights activists as a sign the party preferred restrictive legislation which they say is outdated for the needs of Moroccan society.
While illegal, sexual relationships outside marriage wedlock are widespread, even in less developed rural areas, although it is punishable by up to 12 months in prison.