Image: Moroccan engineers and human-rights activists.
AFP - Getty Images
Moroccan engineers and human-rights activists protest in the capital Rabat, seeking the release of Fouad Mourtada.
By
updated 3/20/2008 11:23:16 AM ET 2008-03-20T15:23:16

A Moroccan computer engineer who was imprisoned for creating a fake Facebook profile of King Mohammed VI's younger brother said Wednesday he only did it out of admiration for the prince.

Fouad Mourtada, 26, told The Associated Press that he was "fine" after the monarch granted him a pardon that led to his release Tuesday from a prison in Sale, Morocco. He thanked supporters who campaigned for his release.

Mourtada was sentenced last month to three years in prison for "usurping" the identity of Prince Moulay Rachid by creating a profile of him on the popular networking site. He was arrested early last month.

"I have nothing against the prince. In fact, my act was done because of my admiration for him," Mourtada told the AP by phone. "I regret that it was badly interpreted."

The case sent ripples of concern through the blogosphere in Morocco, a North African kingdom that has been modernizing — in fits and starts — since Mohammed VI took power after his father King Hassan II died in 1999.

"There has to be free expression of ideas. Well, as long as the law is respected," Mourtada said. Under Moroccan law, insults and outrage against royals can lead to prosecution.

Mourtada's case drew the scrutiny of at least one major media freedom group abroad, and spurred an online campaign by supporters who had appealed to the prince for clemency.

"This is a great relief," French advocacy group Reporters Without Borders said in a statement. "Nonetheless, we regret that his release is the result of a royal pardon rather than a fair verdict and sentence."

"Moroccan bloggers will not be able to forget his imprisonment when they compose their blog entries," the group said.

A Moroccan Justice Ministry official said the pardon was one of 566 announced Wednesday by the king as part of a tradition of granting pardons on the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed.

The king never explains the reasons for pardons, the official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be cited by name.

Mourtada suggested that he wanted to get back into cyberspace.

"I'm going to continue my life normally. I'm going to rest a bit, and think about my future," Mourtada said. "Above all, I am a computer engineer. It's my career — I like my field."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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