Morocco Clamps Down on Homosexuality, Shiites

Morocco's government is clamping down on homosexuality and alleged Shiite propaganda, saying it will tackle any group that threatens moral and religious values in the Sunni Arab kingdom.

A weekend statement from the Interior Ministry about defending those values came after Morocco cut diplomatic ties with Iran and accused it of trying to spread Shiite Islam in the North African country.

Several independent media last week urged Morocco to grant more freedom of speech to gay activists. An Interior Ministry official, speaking only on condition of anonymity because of ministry rules, said Tuesday that the statement referred to the promotion of homosexuality.

"Certain media are taking a stand for certain ignominious behaviors, which is a provocation for the national public opinion," the statement said on Saturday. "Any act contrary to moral or religious values will be repressed."

Though they coincide, the twin moves against Shiite Islam and gay advocates did not appear to be related. Earlier this month, Rabat severed diplomatic relations with Iran, accusing the Shiite Muslim republic of trying to spread its faith in Morocco.

Rights groups have denounced the clampdown, saying it is an unusual step for Morocco — a nation mostly known for tolerance and openness within the Arab world.

Rights groups say about a dozen people have since been arrested in working class neighborhoods of northern Morocco towns on suspicion they had converted to Shiite Islam.

The Moroccan Association for Human Rights warned that "the war being waged by Morocco against belonging to the Shiite rite" is against the country's strong move recently toward democracy and civil liberties.

Recent reports in the pro-government press accuse Iran of using Shiite Islam to undermine the stability of moderate Arab states. Several media quoted unidentified government officials as alleging Iran is trying to create a rift between moderate, pro-U.S. Arab states like Morocco or Saudi Arabia, and more hardline states like Syria.

Iran's influence has been rising in the Arab world, and some in Morocco worry that Tehran could use Shiite Islam to promote its cause. Iran denies this. The Iranian Foreign Ministry has said it was surprised at Rabat's decision to sever diplomatic ties.

On Saturday, authorities closed down the Iraqi school in Rabat, the capital. The closure was triggered by a complaint by parents complaining the school was promoting Shiite Islam, Moroccan media reported.

The school taught about 400 children, mostly Moroccans. The Education Ministry said in a statement that the school was closed because "the pedagogy ... was contrary to the law" on private education in Morocco.