Moroccan Court Grants Bail for Heavy Metal Fans

A Moroccan court has freed on bail 11 heavy metal music enthusiasts controversially jailed for offences against morality and linked by the prosecution to a "Satanist" cult, according to Reuters.

Three others were refused bail.

Defense lawyer Mahfoud Billeh said on Wednesday the 11 were freed on Tuesday night by the Casablanca court pending hearing of appeals against sentences of between one and six months.

They were convicted on March 6 under laws covering distribution of written or visual material which "undermines good morals" and "making people listen, with bad intent, to songs which contravene good morals or incite debauchery."

The three refused bail were sentenced to a year in prison for "employing seductive methods with the aim of undermining the faith of a Muslim."

A public demonstration was planned for 6:30 p.m. this evening (March 12) in Casablanca in support of the heavy metal fans, who included nine members of bands NEKROS, INFECTED BRAIN and REBORN.

Many commentators in the North African kingdom reacted with outrage to the convictions and suggested they reflected a conservative witch-hunt against young music fans.

Parents, friends and college supervisors of the 14, who are aged between 22 and 35, argued that the case arose from a misunderstanding of the heavy metal sub-culture and should never have come to court.

Since the sentencing, human rights campaigners and youth groups in Morocco have led active protests in support of the 14. So too have the liberal members of the Moroccan and French press who have written rallying editorials.

"We, the young people of Morocco, wish to declare our support for our rocker friends who have been imprisoned for their love of music and of hard rock, and whose only crime is that they've chosen to express themselves in their own way and through their music," reads one entry on a growing petition which has been set up to support those convicted.

Today's protest was set to consist of a sit-in that was to take place in Casablanca town center in front of the courtroom where the 14 were sentenced. Organizers were urging those attending to wear black and bring candles. This is in direct response to the judge's questioning of the 14's favored choice of black T-shirts and his interrogation of on of those sentenced over their predilection for lighting candles.

Thursday is likely to see the protests continue with a gig being planned at the Maarif Hall in Casablanca. This is expected to include further round table discussions concerning the freedom of expression in Morocco.

During the trial, the prosecution charged that the defendants were linked to an organized "Satanist" cult.

It showed the court items such as an ashtray in the form of a skull, heavy metal CDs and black T-shirts worn by the accused.

The decision to grant bail to the 11 was a positive development, Billeh said. "Evidently, the reaction of civil society has played a role."

The defense expected to secure bail for the remaining three after resolving questions of bail guarantees, he added.

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