Theres only one Barcelona: the case of Yassine Bellasal

As anyone who’s visited our office in east London will know, Amnesty UK HQ is located in an untidy area of Shoreditch.

But I like it. It’s hip, it’s happening and it’s got a lot of messy – and sometimes quite attractive – graffiti all over the place (pictured).

Now I’m not condoning this criminal damage activity for one moment. Many years ago a friend of mine was fined for “tagging” a bus shelter with an aerosol can. Fair cop, I reckon. (And so would he now: this was his “hip hop” phase, inspired by a 1980s visit to New York and listening to Schooly D on his boombox).

But, I must admit I often take photos of the odder bits of graffiti on my travels. Some of it is – dare I say it – quite “artistic”.

Why do I mention this? Well an 18-year-old in Morocco called Yassine Bellasal is facing a year in prison for daubing the slogan “God, The Nation, Barça” on his school wall. He was apparently playing around with the words of the country’s motto “God, The Nation, The King” – with Barça being a reference to his favourite football team – Barcelona.

Ok, a regrettable misdemeanour. But, instead of, for example, a teacher saying “Oi you boy, get that cleaned off or you’ll be suspended” (or somesuch), Yassine was arrested by the local gendarmerie at his home near Marrakesh and then – reportedly – beaten and threatened with electric shock torture whilst in detention. Then, last month he was brought to a court – without legal representation – and sentenced to a year in prison (plus given the maximum fine). His lawyers are appealing but he’s presently still in jail.

Heavy-handed? Just a bit. Morocco has got a real problem with freedom of speech, especially when it comes to the royal family. Remember the Moroccan blogger Mohammed Erraji getting two years for a post that was deemed insulting to the Moroccan king? He was eventually pardoned (by the king) but the fact remains that the authorities in Morocco are hypersensitive and draconian when it comes to free speech and their royals.

With the sports pages awash with stuff about Diego “Hand of God” Maradona becoming Argentina’s manager, and superstar ex-Pompey manager Harry Redknapp taking his beleaguered new Tottenham side to a (sort of) 4-4 triumph at the Emirates, I think it’s only right that this other “sport” story gets an airing.

That’s what we intend to give it. Any suggestions about getting the message out gratefully received.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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