Moroccan King Pardons Engineer Jailed for Impersonating Prince on Facebook

Moroccan King Mohammed VI pardoned a 26-year-old man who had been imprisoned for passing himself off as the monarch's younger brother on Facebook, a Moroccan Justice Ministry official said Wednesday.

Fouad Mourtada, a state engineer, was released Tuesday from prison in Sale, near the Moroccan capital, Rabat, the ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be cited by name.

Last month, a court sentenced Mourtada to three years in prison and fined him 10,000 Moroccan dirhams (about US$1,300, or euro880) for "usurping" the identity of Prince Moulay Rachid on the popular online networking site.

The ministry official said by phone that the pardon was one of 566 announced Wednesday by the king as part of a tradition of granting royal pardons in honor of the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.

Mourtada had been arrested early last month, according to the official news agency, MAP.
The case drew widespread attention among Web surfers in the North African kingdom, and spurred an online campaign by supporters who appealed to the prince for clemency.

"This is a great relief," French media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. "Nonetheless, we regret that his release is the result of a royal pardon rather than a fair verdict and sentence."

"Moroccan bloggers will not be able to forget his imprisonment when they compose their blog entries," the group said.

Under Moroccan law, insults and outrage against royals can lead to prosecution. The ministry official said the Mourtada case involved a "fake profile" or the prince, but did not elaborate.