During the beginning of October 2013, two teenagers from the northern city of Nador were arrested for uploading an image of them kissing one another. The two teenagers and a male friend who took the picture, faced charges of “public indecency.” After they were held in a juvenile detention center, the teenagers’ trial was postponed from 12 October 2013 to 22 November. The defense attorney cited the pursuit of “an inquiry into the social circumstances of the teenagers” as the reason for the trial’s delay. In reaction to the arrest of these teenagers, netizens launched a solidarity campaign entitled #FreeBoussa on social media. The campaign included images of couples kissing one another and calls for a sit-in, which ended up taking place in Rabat on 12 October 2013. Following the widespread media coverage of the case, the judge acquitted the teenagers, who would have otherwise faced jail sentences of up to five years.
The multiple layers of political authority, morality, and gendered norms of public decency embedded within this case and the reaction that followed merit a deeper reading. Firstly, the arrest of these teenagers was, first and foremost, a grave violation of their right of expression. With the public prosecution citing laws relating to “public indecency,” the case demonstrates the role of the state in policing social norms and defining morals along conservative lines. Secondly, the state’s moral arm in its role as the “social” police is bolstered by its socioeconomic policies that have marginalized the northern Rif region, where the arrest of these teenagers took place (specifically the city of Nador). Moreover, the selective enforcement of rigid moral codes fits into a broader pattern of the Moroccan regime’s ongoing repression and marginalization of politically contentious actors. While the teenagers targeted in this case did not explicitly engage in political expression, the fact that they come from a region that has been the site of broader dissent directed at the palace raises questions about the political implications of this case.
Thirdly, the solidarity campaign that grew in response to the arrest of these teenagers has succeeded in gaining wider media attention and drawing more scrutiny to the case. To the extent that the #FreeBoussa campaign acted as a societal disruption, such as the public kiss-in that took place in Rabat, aspects of the campaign uncritically embrace liberal views on individual freedoms. Such an approach, which fails to address the fact that the arrest of these teenagers is beyond the simple act of kissing, opens the window for more state oppression. Continue reading The Illegal Kiss