Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Begging Your Pardon

I believe that if you seated the world's population in front of a Sony Flat Screen tv & gave each person their own remote control, they would quickly divide themselves into 2 groups: those who watch medical dramas & those who watch crime/law/prison programmes. In this completely insupportable & skewed theorem of mine, the medical-types denote the more optimistic feel-good sector of society, whereas the legal eagle wannabes represent smarmy vindictive snarks, hoping to show off their deductive skills or catch a glimpse of an old-fashioned prison rape scene. There's a doctoral thesis buried in there, mark my words.

I place myself in the latter group.

My zodiacal proclivities suggest that I should have gone into some aspect of law enforcement but alas, not satisfied with disappointing my parents, I chose to thumb my nose at the cosmos as well. Go big or go home. My first date with Mr. Cat in Rabat was a front row seat at the trial of one of Canada's most loathesome & notorious murderers. So it should come as no surprise that I'm hooked on crime & legal dramas; it dosn't matter that I know by heart every episode of Law & Order, I'm glued to the television set. Home for the last 3 weeks, I've discovered several new prison reality shows that will only serve to heighten my separation anxiety when I return to Morocco next week. *Sigh*

So it was with some interest that I noted that this week King Mohammed VI pardoned almost 900 inmates in honour of "King and People's Revolution Day".

Some 209 people will benefit from a pardon for the remaining period of their sentence. Twenty others benefited from a total pardon while 44 from an imprisonment pardon but their fines were maintained. Up to 16 prisoners condemned to life saw their sentences reduced to a limited prison term.

The remaining inmates received sentence reductions - sort of like winning a free lottery ticket for next week's draw when everyone else won the jackpot - or had their fines squashed. In fact, this month alone, a total of 1556 prisoners were on the receiving end of M6's largesse. Royal pardons are normally granted to prisoners to mark historical events, various celebrations and religious days. Last summer, 10,000 individuals received full or partial pardons on the anniversary of the return of M6's father's from exile and Independence Day, while over 7,000 inmates were pardoned on the occasion of his infant son's circumcision (finally, getting the short end of the stick pays off).

Personally, I wouldn't like to spend much time in a Moroccan prison. Although there are ongoing attempts to modernize prisons, they are an estimated 30-40% overcrowded (a more cynical person that I might suggest that M6's pardons are merely a mechanism to alleviate overcrowding), violent, diseased, and manned by corrupt staff. The sexual abuse of children as young as 12 has been documented, although, legally, no one less than 16 years of age should be in prison at all. Prisoners awaiting trial or serving their first offence are housed with seasoned offenders. Prisoners' only acess to food is that supplied to them by their families - after their families have bribed a phalanx of prison guards.

Besides the run-of-the-mill offences, you can be tossed into a Moroccan prison for a variety of creative reasons. Journalists can face a five-year prison sentence for press offences which include publications deemed prejudicial to Islam, the monarchy, territorial integrity or public order. The editor of the weekly paper 'Akhbar al-Ousbouaâ', was sentenced to 6 months in prison for 'defamation', i.e., for publishing an article detailing the alleged homosexual acts of a Moroccan Minister. In a country where Arabic-language bibles are prohibited, proselytizing (by non-Muslims) can land one in prison. Then of course, there are Morocco's political prisoners:

Amnesty International has other longstanding concerns in Morocco. Hundreds of Sahrawis and Moroccans who have "disappeared" after arrest are unaccounted for and are believed to be held in secret centres. Prolonged incommunicado detention and torture are still practised in Western Sahara.

Well at least this week, there are 877 shiny happy Moroccans (and their families) & I'd like to think that each & every one of them deserved their pardons. But it saddens me that I have yet to find any season of HBO's Oz in the medina. Maybe it's the full frontal male nudity, the somewhat salty language, or the almost commonplace scenes of graphic gay sexuality and violence - who knows? But I have seen complete sets of Full House and the A-Team, and if that's not obscene, I don't know what is.

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