Chafiq has been trying to keep out of sight since a minor traffic accident on New Year’s Eve in Marrakesh unraveled into a nightmare scenario.
Wearing a very short blue dress with a scooped back, the 33-year-old Moroccan was returning from a party in a Marrakesh hotel when he had a prang with another driver. It was no big deal but it wasn’t long before it turned into one. Shortly after his accident Chafiq was left handcuffed and barefoot while various bystanders – including police officers themselves – filmed his humiliation. It is footage that was subsequently posted on social media sites.
Everyone was filming it and insulting me at the same time. It was humiliating Chafiq, victim of police abuse
“Everyone has seen it,” Chafiq told EL PAÍS. “But the worst thing about it is that various police officers took photos of my ID documents and posted them online too.”
Chafiq has enjoyed dressing as a woman since he was a youngster but his family was unaware of his sexual orientation until now. It was also something he hid from his colleagues at the clinic where he works in administration. As homosexuality is punishable in Morocco with up to three years behind bars, Chafiq was forced to lead a double life – one that he even managed to keep a secret while serving in the armed forces over a period of 11 years.
This New Year, however, that life has been placed under the spotlight.
“It was a simple traffic accident with another driver,” says Chafiq. “Initially, I kept driving, but there was a jam so I decided to go back to the place where the accident took place. I was surprised to see so many people surrounding my car. I was scared to get out. More than anything, I wanted to protect myself.”
Chafiq refused to open the door so the police smashed the front windscreen. “Everyone was filming it and insulting me at the same time. It was humiliating. Then they took me to a police station and that was catastrophic. They photographed my ID card and posted it on different social media sites as though I were a criminal. Then they let me leave. The next morning I got messages from my work colleagues who had seen the video and my ID card.”
My dream is to live in a country where human rights are respected Chafiq, victim of police abuse
In an unprecedented move, an order has been issued by the Directorate General of the Moroccan police to punish four of the officers involved in the incident. But the damage is done. “The worst thing is what it has done to my family,” says Chafiq. “I feel terrible for them and I want them to be kept out of what is happening to me. When my mother saw the video, she passed out. Everyone now knows where I live and they recognize me when I’m out. I’m afraid and I would like a European country to take me in. My dream is to live in a country where human rights are respected. The activist Betty Lachgar is helping me to achieve this.”
Lachgar, who is a spokesperson for the Alternative Movement for the Defense of Individual Freedoms in the country, explains: “In Morocco, a person who is either transvestite or trans, however they see themselves, whether homosexual or not, always have to hide. But the worst thing that can happen to you is the humiliation that many LGTB members are subject to when their identity is revealed online. In a country like Morocco, it’s horrible. It’s a conservative, homophobic country with a patriarchal society. Chafiq had never thought of leaving Morocco. He lived relatively well but now his life is ruined – with regard to his family, his job and his dealings with people.”
Lachgar points out that article 489 of the Moroccan Penal Code punishes “wanton acts” and acts that are considered “unnatural between persons of the same sex” with prison sentence of between six months and three years, and fines of between €20 and €100. This also applies to people the authorities consider to be “homosexuals due to the way they dress.”
Chafiq has never been out of Morocco. But now he thinks of little else.
English version by Heather Galloway.
Where homosexuality is a crime
Human-rights collectives in Morocco are engaged in an ongoing lobby against Article 489 of the Penal Code that stipulates a sentence of up to three years in jail for people of the same sex enjoying sexual relations.
There are those in authority, however, who take the punishment a step further and post the person’s details online for good measure.
In June, 2015, two homosexuals who were kissing in the Hassan Tower in Rabat were arrested for indecent behavior. Subsequently, the details of the two men, including their IDs, addresses and parents’ addresses, were posted online, prompting a number of people to harass them outside their homes.
The following year, five men burst into the home of a man who was in bed with his partner in the town of Beni Melal, a four-hour drive from Rabat. After beating the couple, the gang of five hauled them out onto the street naked and posted videos of their public humiliation online.
The victims were subsequently given three- and four-month prison sentences while their assailants were released on probation. But an appeal overturned the sentences, releasing the victims and sentencing the attackers to six months behind bars. After the appeal, dozens of locals protested on the streets of Beni Melal on behalf of the homophobes.