AL HOCEIMA, Morocco (Reuters) - Armed with only a small video camera, a young Moroccan man has harnessed the power of the Internet to expose a local scandal of police corruption.
Crouched on a hill above a road in Morocco’s northern cannabis growing region, the “Sniper” filmed a group of uniformed traffic police for hours as they stopped almost every van that passed and held out their hands for a bribe.
None of the drivers seemed to complain — the gendarmes smiled and shook their victims hands before waving them on. But the viewer is left in no doubt over what is happening.
The Sniper chose the anonymity of the Internet to expose his evidence for fear of reprisals by local authorities.
To his surprise, the video has drawn tens of thousands of viewers around the world and made him a hero among downtrodden Moroccans tired of paying bribes to civil servants to avoid a fine or to obtain official papers, health care and justice.
“Take up your cameras, dear Moroccans,” said one commentator on YouTube who identified himself as Youyoubes. “Such scenes you will find on any street corner. Unfortunately there is not a sniper in every house.”
In a Reuters interview, the Sniper said his videos had sent a clear message to Moroccans: that they could fight corruption now instead of waiting in vain for the government to act.
“Fighting corruption is the duty of Morocco’s youth before the government musters the willingness to wipe it out,” he said.
He asked not to be named as he said he feared reprisals.
“If the government stands idle, citizens and society will lend a hand in the fight against corruption, even with the rudimentary tools they have,” he added.
Human rights activists hail the Sniper as a hero but worry police might arrest him if he were to be identified. Leading rights lawyer Abderrahim al Jamai said he feared Sniper would be pressured to “confess” to making up the videos, if arrested.
The independent Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH) criticised police for hunting him, saying that an unspecified number of youths from Sniper’s home village, Tarjist, were arrested by police seeking his identity and whereabouts.
“I apologise to Tarjist youth who have been kidnapped,” the Sniper said, adding he had named his first video “Genuine Claim” to emphasise his sincerity in fighting corruption.
“I named the other Stark Evidence to underpin the truthfulness of the first video, which prompted authorities to cast doubts on it as a manufactured film,” he said.
Government officials in the north African state, a monarchy in which the king wields paramount powers over a weak parliament, were not immediately available for comment.
But the official news agency MAP reported those policemen caught on Sniper’s camera were on trial. It gave no details.
Sniper said he felt corruption was more pervasive on his mountainous Hoceima region where many farmers grow cannabis and are easy targets for police seeking bribes.
He said he did not want to suggest all police in the region were corrupt. Police and other state employees should, he said, earn decent wages to shield them from graft temptation.
Moroccans say they run risks if they try to upset powerful vested interests involved in corruption, especially in the north where the cannabis industry represents a big parallel economy.
Three lawyers in Tetouan town were expelled from the bar in March for publicly condemning graft in the judiciary, drawing condemnation from the local arm of Transparency International.
Writing by Lamine Ghanmi; editing by Tom Pfeiffer, William Maclean and Ralph Boulton