A vigil, in Casablanca, for victims of the convicted Spanish pedophile Daniel Galván Viña, who was released from prison after a pardon from the king of Morocco.Associated Press A vigil, in Casablanca, for victims of the convicted Spanish pedophile Daniel Galván Viña, who was released from prison after a pardon from the king of Morocco.
RABAT, Morocco — This year, like every year on Throne Day, King Mohamed VI of Morocco handed out royal pardons. With the occasion falling on July 30, during an official visit from King Juan Carlos I of Spain, it was announced that 48 Spanish citizens serving time in Moroccan prisons would be freed.
Among them: Daniel Galván Viña, who was convicted two years ago of molesting at least 11 children in the Moroccan town of Kenitra and sentenced to 30 years in jail.
Sexual assault, trafficking and prostitution are serious problems for children in Morocco, especially for those who live on the street or among the rural poor. But such is the deference to the king here that at first few dared to criticize him directly for setting Galván Viña free.
None of Morocco’s cowed political parties or newspapers took up the issue. Even the founder of “Hands Off My Child,” the NGO that helped the families of Galván Viña’s victims win their landmark case against him — one of the first in which an offender was given such a heavy sentence — defended the monarch’s right to give out pardons as he sees fit.
Online, though, there was outrage. Soon after news of Galván Viña’s release appeared on the independent news site Lakome, it spread across social media. Pardons in other countries can be controversial, too, but this one had everything to shock and anger: Here was a Spanish criminal getting away with abusing Moroccan victims, and a royal prerogative trumping the justice system.
Last weekend the colonnaded Avenue Mohammed V in central Rabat echoed with the chants of young protesters (“Long Live the People!” “Down with Perverts!”) and their running footsteps, as they dashed away from police squadrons. Other small demonstrations have since taken place in other Moroccan cities.
Five days after news of the pardon leaked, the king exceptionally reversed his decision and asked for an investigation to determine who was responsible for selecting Galván Viña for release. (The ex-convict has since been arrested in Spain, but getting him extradited to Morocco could take years.) An official communiqué from the royal palace said, “The King had never been informed, in any manner or at any time, of the gravity of the abject crimes” for which Galván Viña was convicted. Had the king known, he would not have issued the pardon.
As the novelist Laila Lalami put it: “In summary: The king has absolute power, but is absolutely not responsible for what happened.”
Morocco’s small activist community has seized on the controversy as a rare chance to shed light on the operations of the royal cabinet — a shadow government that far outranks its elected counterparts — and call for more transparency. How did Galván Viña’s name get on the lucky list? Especially when the Justice Ministry claims it alerted the royal cabinet of his crimes.
Most Moroccans are still loath to question the king, in matters big or small. But it is through controversies such as this one that the relationship between the crown and its citizens evolves — as the first sheds its pretensions to infallibility and the second its habit of silent obedience.
Ursula Lindsey, a journalist based in Cairo, blogs at The Arabist.