Hamid was a young gay who was completely out until the death of one of his gay friends led him to a police station and then to prison only because of his homosexuality. Being gay in Morocco is unlawful and police officers are very zealous about it. With a lot of emotion and sweetness in his voice, Hamid tells about this event which shook up his life. Before moving on with life, he gives a testimony against a penal code and a system which oppress gay people. LGBT tourists often search to meet boys, without realizing what they risk. Chatting with Hamid which opens our eyes.
Stéphan. The Moroccan penal code stipulates that homosexuality is forbidden. However, it is very present and Marrakech is among to the top destinations for LGBT.
Hamid. Moroccans are very welcoming but they are also very hypocritical. There are gays everywhere, but nobody wants to acknowledge it and many condemn gays. It is a real mentality problem. Homsexuality is not only forbidden by law but Moroccans posts many anti-gay comments on social networks. This past year, there have been many arrests and all the comments on the fact of imprisoning gays have been really disgusting. If you are discreet and nobody knows, it is ok. Otherwise, you are out, explode and everybody is against you.
S. In which circumstances were you arrested because of your homosexuality?
H. I went to the police station to declare the disappearance of French gay friend then I returned home. I was summoned the following day because they had found his murderer. It was a 21 year old Moroccan who had lived with him for 5 years as a couple. He told them my friend was raping him and beating him up, which was not true. He had also told the police about our evenings with friends, our sex plans and the people we were acquainted with. The police officers took my telephone, looked at the two thousand pictures that we stored in it and printed them all. I was a model and had a lot of professional photos, some of them naked, of just myself and really artistic. At that time, they asked me whether I was gay and I say yes naturally, because I did not think about doing something wrong. There are many people in the street who were gay and still are...
S. In fact, you were not aware of this law prohibiting homosexuality in Morocco?
H. I knew that it was forbidden to be gay, but I thought you could be arrested only if caught sleeping with a guy, kissing someone in the street, engaging in prostitution or being ultra queer, too much for society and a trouble to public order. Here, there was nothing of that. I was there to denounce a crime, and I just normally acted as a gay man the fact of being gay and I would never have imagined that you could be imprisoned for that. Me and my French friend were considered the evil perverts since we were gay. The police officers were on the side of the assassin because they considered he had been right to beat up the asshole who was a sickman perverting Moroccans. Justice condemned him to 25 years imprisonment, since even if the police officers approved the murder, they do not change the laws and there was a murder. But from the start he was nice guy and me the bad one. In Morocco, a wife does not have a word to say, but gays are considered a perverse sickman. Moreover, they do not make any difference between gay and paedophile.
S. How did the contact with the police officers go?
H. I was put in police custody for 72 hours in large rooms under the police station. The police officers right away said to me that if I spoke to the murderer, they were going to beat me up, then they showed me a room and told me not to move from there. They mocked me and were very nasty with a very macho attitude. For sure, they were acting the same with all defendants because for them, a law was not complied with, but I had the impression that they were very happy to have caught me and were going to make me pay for being gay. The atmosphere was very stressful because I did not know what would happen. I really did not understand why I was there.
S. To be audited by the judge, you had to have a lawyer. Some say there is a lot of bribery to reduce sentences.
H. My mother was informed by my friends and paid a lawyer who refused the file as he did not want to take any risks with a business connected with homosexuality and questions of individual freedom. Since she has little money, my friends gathered some. I have worked in the fashion business in Marrakech, so I know a lot of people. When everyone learned I was in trouble, they all called her and it made it possible to collect money. In addition to €2000 for the lawyer, 250,000 dirhams were paid to a man who was to give the money to the judge to speed up the process and ensure a small sentence. That made it possible to get one month instead of 3, but he behaved badly and blackmailed my mother and my friends, telling them that I was going to get killed in prison if they did not give more money.
S. How did it go with the judge?
H. The audience with the King prosecutor took place in an office of the court. I saw him twice; the first to extend my stay in custody and to seperate my case with that of the murderer, and the second to study my case. I was asked many very private questions to know to know whether I am a top or bottom for instance. I was embarassed and asked them why they wanted to know such things since it was not useful in the case of my friend’s murder. It was personal, I did not want to talk about it. They asked me if I had gone to see a doctor and I told them that I went every six months. In fact I was talking about AIDS tests and they spoke about a psychiatrist to cure me. I understood that they were not at all in the same state of mind as me and that my case was getting worse and worse. So I didn’t say anything more. I was sure to be released because they did not find any prooves in my telephone that I had had gay behaviours.
S. And yet, you are led to prison in the hours that follow.
H. They told me to sit in a room and to wait. At the end of the day, a policeman handcuffed me and sent into a car. I get inside, I look at the others, I look at myself, I was a little surprise, I didn’t know what do, what to say, and I ask them where we are going. One of the guys looks at me and tells me that we are going to prison. A nice guy lent me his phone and I called my mother who told me I would see the judge on the Monday morning and she was looking for a lawyer.
Nobody wanted to take the file and the Human Rights association in Rabat us recommended one who charged €2000 but never again news afterwards. My mother and my friends didn’t know what else to do. Me, I didn’t understand anything. On the Monday morning, a guy came to the cell door and ask me to follow him and here I am handcuffed to a car towards the court. There were many guys and we passed one by one when called. The judge didn’t even look at me and pronounced my name, file number and deferred his verdict to another week. In fact, the king prosecutor judged that I was to go to prison and he was to specify the duration of it. I returned to prison.
S. How does your arrival in prison go?
H. I was put into a room and waited for a long time. I could not believe it and thought it was a nightmare for which I was going to wake up. When my turn came, a guard told me that I was sentenced for homosexuality and asked if it was the case, then led me into a small room where I had to take off my clothes. He checked everything, even my shoes whose lace were removed, and ask me to sit naked to see if I hadn’t hidden anything in my anus. He told me to get dressed and follow him and told another guard that I was placed in a cell whose name I didn’t understand. The other one asked me why I was there and told him the whole story. It didn’t understand why I went to see the police and had heard the news about the Frenchman’s death. It showed some understanding and took me to the cell whose boss he called. The guy introduced himself and offered a welcome.
S. The special cell where you were placed was reserved for gays. It has a reassuring side considering that you were preserved from the homophobia of other fellows-prisoners. How did that go ?
H. I understood it was a cell reserved for the gays when I entered but the welcome was very special. There were three completely queer guys at the top of a bunk bed, with depilated eyebrows and a very vulgar make-up. They spoke to me with a big « hiiiiiiii ! » and invited me to join them. In fact, they were all here for criminal offenses beside their homosexuality.
Some of them because they were prostitues, others were ultra effeminate, drunk in the street and had disturbed public order. There was a guy who committed robberies and police officers found gay pictures in his telephone. Another one has killed his boyfriend. There was also one who had worked for a French couple and had slept with the husband before being denounced by the woman whom he had tried to despoil... One was caught at home with his boyfriend following the call of a neighbour. They arrested him but not the boyfriend because he was a French and could give money and get away from arrest. The Morrocan stayed in prison. I do not judge anyone ; everyone can do what they want, but at that time, this mix of very special people, really shocked me. It was a world that I did not know and people whose existence I was unaware of. And then, we were 12 for only 6 beds. There was real promiscuity and they were very malicious and vicious between them. They fought on misunderstandings and out of boredom. Sentences ranged from a few months to 25 years. It was very hot in the cell ; there was no privacy ; it was intolerable.
S. Life in the cell was that agitated? With such promiscuity, were you forced to have sexual relations?
H. Have sexual relations was forbidden and I enforced respect towards me from the start. If one had tried, I have denounced him directly to the guards and he would have risked a more serious sentence. There was no particular incidents with me as I rarely spoke. My mother had brought me my ipad, my music and books. I was completely in my little world. My ear-phones let the screams filter but I did not want to know. I did not want to interfere me and when I was asked for my opinion, I said I didn’t know, that I did not understand or that I hadn’t heard anything.
I was often anxious about what I could say or had said to one or the other. I tried not to hurt anybody. In fact, I was nervous all the time and almost did not sleep because there were two other people in the bed. Sometimes I spent part of the night on the floor. I was also sick the first two weeks with a violent headache. The guards gave me a pill every three days ; it did not help much. During the fights, which were very violent, they were all against one person every time. I wondered what I was doing thereand was hoping to awaken from this nightmare. Every day, I called my mother who tried to reassure me and told me she was doing everything to get me out. Once a week, I received her visit but not that of friends because it was not allowed.
S. In the whole prison, there was only one cell for gays. Did the guards beware not to mix you with others?
H. Gays are considered as sick people. During the daily breaks, 15 minutes in the morning and evening, guards waited until the other prisoners had finished theirs to let us out with those who had contagious diseases. Moreover, the queerest of the cell hooked up to the cell doors and called on the other prisoners who passed our cell to beg for kisses. They made sexual proposals in exchange for cigarettes and responded to guys’ insults. It was really weird. In fact, every time there were a fight or a problem in the cell, the guards let things go without taking seriously the problem which was to be settled between the sick gays. It was humiliating. They always respected me because from the start, it was clear that I had not done anything and I was going to stay in my corner without causing any problem. I was not ashamed of the other gays and didn’t care about what other prisoners thought about me or gays in general. Above all, I constantly thought about the way I could leave from there.
S. You did 1 month instead of 3. When were you informed?
H. After three Court hearingd, I was judged and I still had 10 days to do considering the time already passed. So I waited and waited... very eager to leave! It was extraordinary. My mother came to pick me up and from the street, she was on the phone to propagate the good news. I went to lunch with her and a very good friend. Then I went to the hammam and to my workplace where almost all my friends were gathered. I couldn’t stay too long because there were too many people for me, and then, this story changed my life completely. One month had passed and I was not the same person anymore.
S. After this experience, how did your life change precisely?
H. This personal experience was a shock and an awakening on Morocco, from me and even people around me. You really have to be careful. As a result, I don’t even have Grindr, nothing on my smartphone. I delete all my pictures and am completely paranoid... I have administrative papers to fill and I can’t get to go to the police station to complete them. I also freaked out as soon as I see police officers nearby or a police car passing. Even if they don’t have the right to do it, police officers can dig in my mobile phone : they won’t find anything. Before, I was really conmfortable with my homosexuality and out ; I was not scared at all. I was very much « make love, not war"! I was really naive and I was going out a lot whereas you really have to pay attention to the people you meet. My previous life was very superficial and some friends were here only for the moments of drunkenness. So, I cleaned up my friends list and today, I party less but that doesn’t mean that I am a sad person...
S. There were also some disappointments with those who helped you and regarding pressure at work.
H. I was profoundly disappointed by those who gave some money to pay for my lawyer. They quickly made it clear that I had a debt and that I would have to work a lot to give their money back. I find that abnormal. If they wanted to help me, they had to do it completely. The shop also had become unbearable, because everyone came and asked me questions about the case and prison. I resisted 6 months. Other long-time friends I saw less often proved to be closer. Today, it is with them that I am building-up new professional plans. This story also brought me much closer to my mother. She knew about my homosexuality and accepted it but we had never talked about it. My little brother knows too, but we never talked about it. They were here despite the events, and this is a rare thing in Morocco.
S. On the love side, do you serenely plan to live a gay relationship despite the risks you are facing? There was another prisoner who was denounced by his neighbours because of that.
H. It didn’t change anything in my head in terms of sexuality. I remain gay and am fine with it 10 000%. For the people around, it is to « take it or leave it ». I am just much more cautious with public authorities. Before, to meet someone, I was often going out. It was easy and there were two or three guys in my life. Since the prison, there were some flirts, but I don’t have any boyfriend. Even when I go out, it very remain fantasies and, I am on alert. I realize it has been a while since I last had sex. In fact, I don’t want to sleep with someone for one night but I am looking for a real encouter: someone who shares the same vision of the world and the same ambitions as me. It really is difficult in Morocco, because it is a place where foreigners come on holiday and party. They often consider Moroccans as whores... There are many who get paid or get eveything paid for them, but for me, it is unthinkable.
S. Aujourd'hui, Marrakesh remains a top destination for gays who hope to find a haven there. Should they fear prison?
H. Gays should really understand that they are not welcome. A foreigner usually isn’t troubled because he s going to pay if he gets caught in a bad affair and the Moroccan will remain alone to face the police. There are few raids in bars or only when they are very crowded with gays.
For my part, I was unlucky on the arrest because I was too naive, anxious, taken by fear because of my friend’s disappearance and finally murder. So, I went to the police station innocently and police officers took benefit from this moment. In a normal situation, I would never go to see them alone. I would not bring my phone or I would erase every « litigious » contents on it. The penal code in Morocco is that way, but this is not acceptable. Everyone should be able to live their life and not be condemned for their sexual orientation. It made me ask myself the question of what I am doing here. I am very emotional when talking about this experience, but I went through that, I have a job, my friends and family. Many young people like me wish to leave Morocco for Europe or Turkey where they can be free. For my part, I do not want to disavow everything to leave. I am and will remain gay to 10 000%. I am not leaving Morocco but I will contribute to make it change.