A Moroccan rapper who has become one of the monarchy's boldest critics was freed on Thursday after serving four months for assault, a charge which his lawyers say was a ploy to muzzle the popular singer.
After his release from Casablanca's Oukacha prison, Mouad Belrhouat, known as El-Haqed or The Sullen One, said he would continue singing rap to protest against the contempt ordinary Moroccans endure at the hands of the state and politicians.
I will continue to spread my message and denounce the massive corruption in our country, he told Reuters by phone.
His trial had been seen as a test of the Justice and Development Party's commitment to ensuring full independence for the judiciary. The moderate Islamists are leading a government for the first time - like their Tunisian counterparts - after winning elections in November.
The Arab world's oldest monarchy, seeking to preempt popular revolt, made the judiciary constitutionally independent last year. But the courts retain a reputation for taking cues from the authorities, notably in graft and Islamic militancy cases.
Earlier on Thursday, a court in Casablanca sentenced 24-year-old Belrouat to four months and three days in jail and fined him 500 dirhams ($57), sources in the court said.
Belrhouat was arrested in September after a brawl with a monarchist. Bail requests by his lawyers were rejected and the trial was adjourned six times.
It's a bittersweet victory for us, said activist Maria Karim, who has led the campaign for Belrhouat's release.
He has become the singing voice of the movement, inspired by Arab world uprisings, demanding a constitutional monarchy, an independent judiciary and a crackdown on corruption.
Morocco's main human rights group, AMDH, considers him to have been a prisoner of conscience.
His lyrics telling Moroccans to wise up have angered many monarchists. In one song he says the king spends so much time giving orders that he has little time to count his money in Switzerland.
Belrhouat has struck a chord with young Moroccans who are disenchanted with the lack of jobs and widespread corruption. One song Bite just as much as you can chew has had more than 600,000 hits on YouTube.
($1 = 8.7220 Moroccan dirhams)
(Editing by Louise Ireland)