The star of a film on sex work in Morocco has fled the country for France after being savagely beaten in Casablanca, where she said she was denied hospital or police assistance.
Loubna Abidar, who portrays a Marrakech sex worker in Much Loved, a film by Nabil Ayouch, a renowned French-Moroccan director, caused a stir in Morocco after a series of previews were released on YouTube.
The film, a tale of four female sex workers including scenes with rich Saudis, French tourists and corrupt police officers, was lauded at this year’s Cannes Film Festival in May. But Morocco banned it barely a week later on the grounds it was a “grave insult to moral values and Moroccan women".
Photo: Loubna Abidar
Ms Abidar remained out of her native country for a while afterwards, waiting for the media controversy to die down, and had been living “hidden and veiled” in Casablanca, according to French media.
In a video filmed by herself, a bruised and bleeding Ms Abidar describes her ordeal by unknown, knife-wielding assailants.
“I was the victim of an attack in Casablanca. No police station or hospital would take me in,” she said in a video posted on her Facebook page last Friday. “I went to Casablanca’s main police station in the middle of the night and was received with laughter. The police officer said: “Finally Abidar, you got beaten!.”
However, Casablanca police department on Friday said that her allegations were “false”.
“(The police) has no position against Abidar or anybody else, all citizens are equal and any citizen has the right to lodge a complaint, and the duty of the police is to listen to him,” a police source was cited as telling Alyaoum 24 website.
The actress took aim at those behind violent criticism and death threats by saying: “All this because I made a film that you haven’t even watched. You only saw what they wanted you to see. Judge me on the real film."
Photo: PYRAMIDE FILMS
Immediately after the attack on Thursday, she reiterated a previous statement on her intention to seek political asylum in France because authorities had failed to take her fears over threats by social conservatives seriously.
She then retracted her statement, saying that she was confused after the beating. Posting multiple photos of her head wrapped in a bandage and several bruises and lesions on her back, she wrote: “I am better, thank the Lord.”
However, on Sunday she posted another selfie wearing dark glasses and the caption: "Left Morocco, in France."
Le Figaro on Monday said she had "sought refuge" in France “for security reasons”. “She cut her mobile phone and took the first plane to France,” it wrote.
Ms Abidar, a mother of a six-year old girl, recently said that she was determined to continue making “committed films” and to become a “spokeswoman in defence of the Arab, Moroccan, Syrian, or Lebanese female condition”.
In June, she told Le Figaro: “I’m not scared to die for a film, but I hope that things will calm down and that Moroccan society will evolve.”
While the film was banned in Morocco, it is credited with prompting authorities to publish their first ever official statistics on the sex industry.
Photo: PYRAMIDE FILMS
Local health ministries in Agadir, Fez, Rabat and Tangier in May reported that there were 19,333 sex workers in those cities in 2011. Critics said the number was likely much higher in a nation where prostitution is said to be a significant, if little-discussed, informal sector of the tourism industry.
While receiving support from some women’s rights advocates, others have criticised the film’s tone, saying it must respect the sensibilities of the country’s Sunni Muslim majority.
The Moroccan Association of Human Rights, Amdh, declined to comment, saying it was looking into the incident.
But Ibtissame Lachgar of the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties, an advocacy group that focuses on women’s and gay rights backed Ms Abidar.
“There are taboos we need to break,” she told the Independent. “We can’t stop fighting.”