Gay Imprisoned British Tourist Speaks About Moroccan Jail’s ‘Hell on Earth’ Conditions

Ray Cole. Image via Mirror.
Ray Cole. Image via Mirror.
Ray Cole, the 69-year-old gay British man who was jailed in Marrakesh, Morocco on the charges of homosexuality, spoke in a video about his ordeal in the North African country. The laws in Morocco concerning homosexuality are quite strict and he and his partner, Jamal Jam Wad Nass, were sentenced to four months in jail, though Cole was released after 19 days, his partner wasn’t. Now, Cole’s next task back in the UK is to seek asylum for his Jamal in the UK.
In the video, which can only be viewed at the Guardian here. He spoke of the conditions. “The stench from the toilet, you would not believe; it will live with me forever…” he told The Guardian. “There’s screaming and banging on the bars and banging on the doors. There’s no peace there whatsoever 24-hours a day… I was worried that they’d hurt Jamal. I was fairly confident they wouldn’t hurt me as a European, but I really was worried about him because they don’t have any compunction about beating up their own.”

Guide for gay people visiting Morocco – The Guardian


Souk, in Marrakesh, Morocco

I can only feel sympathy and solidarity with Ray Cole and his partner (Report, 17 October). It must have been a horrific and frightening experience. But as an openly gay man who has travelled more than 20 times to Morocco in the last decade (often with my partner), it seems useful to make some things clear to other lesbian and gay travellers. 1) Male homosexuality is, theoretically, illegal in Morocco. However, the law is not imposed frequently. 2) Homosexuality is an accepted part of Moroccan culture and has been for centuries. Most ordinary people are not hostile if you respect local customs (discretion, not pursuing underage boys etc). In addition, extreme Islamism is very rare in Morocco. 3) The whole state apparatus in Morocco has problems with corruption. This means that officials, including police, can act for personal motives – of power, money or religion – without much regard for legal niceties. I have mostly found warm and open acceptance from ordinary Moroccan people as a gay man. Indeed, sometimes I have been pleasantly surprised: such as when the Moroccan-owned riad where we stay upgraded us to the best suite of rooms for free, on hearing that we had just had a civil partnership. So, I think the best advice is to be streetwise: bear in mind you are in a Muslim country where homosexuality is, at least in theory, illegal. Get to know the local people and their views (some places are much more religious than others). In most cases, I believe that you will have a friendly and relaxed experience.

Patrick Baker
Lecturer in Politics, Goldsmiths, London

The Ray Cole case exposes the tyranny Moroccan gay people live under

Cole can think himself lucky for being British, because his lover, Jamal, has been roundly rejected by the authorities and his family

By: Abdellah Taia

Ray Coles is greeted by his family at Gatwick airport after being released from jail in Morocco
‘The Moroccan authorities only acted because Cole’s family and friends created a fuss in the international media.’ Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
An Englishman, Ray Cole, and a young Moroccan, Jamal, are walking in the streets of the Gueliz district in Marrakech. They are not doing anyone any harm.
Some passing police think otherwise: they arrest them and accuse them of homosexuality. A judge then sends them to prison. The proof of their “crime” is the text messages and private photos that the police found in their mobile phones, which show their intimate relationship.
This scene, which might shock people in some western countries, is commonplace. It happens several times a day without the media taking any notice. What changes everything is Cole’s nationality. He is British. And Britain is not just any country. The image of Morocco, a land of tolerance and generosity (according to the advertising slogans), is very much at stake here. There is danger in sight: a disaster for the emerging tourism sector.
Quick, quick, let’s cover it up, let’s release the Englishman, we’ll deal with the Moroccan later, he’s not so important.
The Moroccan authorities took a while to react. And that they eventually did so was because Cole’s family and friends rallied round strongly on his behalf and began to create a fuss about his case in the international media.
And Jamal, the young Moroccan? What’s happening to him? Is his family at his side? Of course not. They would rather reject him: he is not our son. We didn’t raise our son like that. He is unworthy. Let him be alone in his unworthiness, his scandal. And anyway, what was he doing with that Englishman older than him? He must have been prostituting himself.
But Jamal is their son. The son of Morocco. He could be my younger brother, my cousin, my friend. Disowning our own children again and again to show the world our fictitious purity and righteousness is not the solution. Not ever.
The Moroccan state is of course enormously culpable for this attitude that is so dominant in my country. Since individuals, whether heterosexual or gay, are not recognised or protected by laws, they are always in great danger. When an individual finds himself trapped, caught up in a problem bigger than himself, he is simply rejected. No pity. That will teach him. Prison is made for people like him. People who do not act the proper decent Muslim.
A young Moroccan gay man who walked the streets of Marrakech with an Englishman has therefore committed a serious crime. Not that of being a homosexual. Oh no. He was not smart enough to conceal himself properly, to placate the police, to bribe them, to try to be clever. In front of the policemen who arrested them, he didn’t manage to put on the sophisticated act of Moroccan hypocrisy. Can we reproach him for this? He was probably afraid. He was probably shaking. He even cried. And he told himself he had to lie. Deny his homosexuality. Disown his English friend to save his skin. Confronted by a whole country that still considers you a criminal, can we reproach Jamal for feeling this way?
Cole ended up getting out of prison and going home. Morocco was a nightmare. More than his own case, what happened to him shows how vulnerable gay Moroccans are. They are at the mercy of anyone. Your life can be turned upside down at any moment.
The Englishman will speak out. I hope he will speak out. That he will tell the story of what was done to him in Morocco. His free words will in some way help those in Morocco who cannot yet speak.
Gay people are still called “zamel” – an insulting, humiliating and terrifying Arabic word, although a neutral Arabic word, “mithly”, was invented a few years ago to describe a gay person without condemning them. They continue to be exploited sexually, ill-treated, rejected, and looked down on. How much longer will this injustice and discrimination go on in Morocco? How much longer will gay people go on having to pay for an entire society that still does not know what to do with the sexuality of its individuals? How much longer will we continue ignoring a part of civil society that is trying to change the way people think, and to ask for the laws to be changed? How much longer will a foreigner have greater value in Morocco than its own citizens?
Jamal has been supported by the Aswat LGBT association, who launched an online campaign to demand his release. Last Thursday, we learned that he has finally been let out of prison. Good news, of course. But only in part. How many other Jamals are there and will Morocco still have prisons that we don’t hear anything about?
This dramatic and tragic situation for gay people was one of the reasons I left Morocco in 1998. I wanted to be somewhere else. I am now 41 and in exile, and I find it scandalous that people like me are have a terrible fate inflicted on them every day. And the Moroccan state is still doing nothing to change all that. How much longer?

How Morocco became a haven for gay Westerners in the 1950s

A British man flew home from Marrakech last week after being jailed for "homosexual acts". There was a time though when Morocco was renowned as a haven for gay Americans and Britons, who fled restrictions in their own countries to take advantage of its relaxed atmosphere.
Take a walk down one of the main streets in Tangier, the Boulevard Pasteur, turn left before the Hotel Rembrandt and descend towards the sea. Then follow some steps into a narrow side street that smells of urine and screams of danger.
Overlooking an empty space that looks like a disused car park or the aftermath of a nuclear bomb, is a family-run hostel called El Muniria, a white block with blue windowsills and a crenelated roof.
It was here in Room 9, in the 1950s, that William Burroughs, high on drugs, wrote one of the 20th Century's most shocking novels, Naked Lunch. The book, banned under US obscenity laws, is a mixture of autobiography, science fiction and satire, peppered with descriptions of gay sex.
El Muniria hotel
When I enter the Muniria, the youngest member of the family tells me that I can look around, but that Room 9 is locked, as his uncle has "gone away with the key."
The corridors are desolate with some mould on the walls. A black and white portrait of Burroughs in hat and dark glasses stares blankly back above a rubber plant. The bathroom is bleak, like the inside of an asylum, with white tiles everywhere, exposed yellowing pipes and a loose mirror about to fall into the sink. The toilets look like the end of the world.
I venture downstairs to the quarters where the family live. The landlady shows me around. We stand in front of Room 9, which is still locked. I ask if it's possible to see inside. She replies that it is a bit messy. I tell her I don't mind, so she comes back with the key and opens the door. Inside is an unmade bed, an old radio and dark wooden wardrobes. A single naked light bulb dangles from the ceiling.
Picture of Burroughs
She tells me Burroughs had lived in Room 9, while fellow Beat writers Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac had rented Room 4 and Room 5 on the floor above. Very occasionally, she says, the American novelist Paul Bowles, the author of The Sheltering Sky, would use number 7 at the top. Like Naked Lunch, The Sheltering Sky was another groundbreaking novel that explores the dark side of the human psyche amid the desolate backdrop of the Sahara.
But why were these giants of American literature so attracted to Tangier?
"I think you know the reason," replies Simon-Pierre Hamelin with a smile, when I put this question to him, and says no more. He runs La Librairie des Colonnes, a bookshop on the Boulevard Pasteur, owned by the former boyfriend of Yves Saint Laurent.
Its bookshelves are another reminder of Tangier's huge literary legacy which includes Jean Genet, Andre Gide, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal and Joe Orton, all of whom were gay or bisexual, as well as many others, from Samuel Pepys to Mark Twain, who were straight.
Boulevard Pasteur 1944
Tangier's Boulevard Pasteur, 1944
For decades Tangier and other Moroccan cities were magnets for gay tourists. Prior to independence in 1956 Tangier was an international zone that was administered by several different European countries, without a very rigid rule of law. In the words of the English academic Andrew Hussey, Tangier was "a utopia of dangerous, unknown pleasures." The Americans who turned up in the 1950s were escaping from a repressive society where homosexuality was outlawed. In Morocco, attitudes were much more relaxed and, provided they were discreet, Westerners could indulge their desires, without fear of harassment, with a limitless supply of young locals in need of money, and smoke an equally limitless supply of the local cannabis.
The differential in wealth between foreigners and Moroccans created a thriving market in prostitution, but relations were not only based on the exchange of money. Paul Bowles had a long-lasting friendship with the artist Ahmed Yacoubi, and his wife Jane, lived in an apartment upstairs with a wild peasant woman called Cherifa.
In his early days in Tangier, Burroughs was not particularly sensitive to local culture. In a letter to Allen Ginsberg in 1954, he is not even able to keep track of his conquests:
"I go to bed with an Arab in European clothes. Several days later… I meet an Arab in native dress, and we repair to a Turkish bath. Now I am almost (but not quite) sure it is the same Arab. In any case I have not seen no.1 again... It's like I been to bed with 3 Arabs since arrival, but I wonder if it isn't the same character in different clothes, and every time better behaved, cheaper, more respectful… I really don't know for sure."
William Burroughs
William Burroughs, circa 1965
In his 1972 autobiography Second Son, David Herbert, an English aristocrat and long time resident of Tangier, bemoaned the city's "Queer Tangier" reputation. "There is one aspect of Tangier life that many of us who live here do find disagreeable and occasionally embarrassing." He added that its "old reputation as a city of sin" attracted Europeans who seemed to imagine that "every Moroccan they see is for sale. Great offence is caused by their lack of discrimination and if someone gets knocked on the head it is usually their own fault."
In his diary, the English playwright Joe Orton recorded a conversation at the Cafe de Paris in 1967. Orton was sitting at a table with friends beside a "rather stuffy American tourist and his disapproving wife." To further stoke their disapproval, the playwright began to talk about a sexual encounter. When one of those at the table reminded Orton that the tourists could hear every word, he replied, "they have no right to be occupying chairs reserved for decent sex perverts."
For some straight men the predominance of gay men had its advantages. The septuagenarian American travel writer John Hopkins says: "I was the only heterosexual writer in Tangier at the time. In terms of women, I had the field to myself!"
Moulay Idris Mosque in Fez, circa 1950
Although some think the writers were rebelling against a soulless, suburban McCarthyite America, Hopkins says it was more straightforward. "They were after boys and drugs. That's what drew them. The Moroccans were charming, attractive, intelligent and tolerant. They had to put up with a lot from us."
So why did Morocco, an ostensibly devout Islamic country, allow homosexuality to thrive? The author Barnaby Rogerson says it is a society that is full of paradoxes.
"It is... a place where all the four different cornerstones of culture: Berber-African, Mediterranean, Arabic or Islamic, share an absolute belief in the abundant sexuality of all men and women, who are charged with a sort of personal volcano of 'fitna', which threatens family, society and state with sexually derived chaos at any time," he says. The word fitna, he suggests, "means something like 'charm, allure, enchantment, temptation, dissent, unrest, riot, rebellion' or all of these at the same time."
But despite a certain fear of this chaos of sexuality, there is also an understanding that it is just part of human nature and that ultimately you have to live and let live. "Morocco," Rogerson says, "has always been a nation where tolerance is practised but not preached."
Tangier
Source: BBC

Release of Moroccan friend of Brit jailed for ‘homosexual acts’ confirmed

The friend of Ray Cole has been confirmed to have been released
Ray Cole, 70, a retired magazine publisher from Deal in Kent, was arrested last month, during a holiday to Marrakesh to visit his Moroccan friend, who has asked not to be named because his family did not know of his fate.

Last Thursday they were found guilty of “homosexual acts” and sentenced to four months behind bars.

Earlier today, several reports out of Morocco stated that the man had been released on bail, after he appealed the conviction, but that he may be returned to jail, which Ray Cole described as “a concentration camp”, because of the pair’s interactions on social media. Yabiladi news reported that he “will still face justice”.

Writing on a now deleted Facebook page calling for his release, a member of Cole’s family said: “I can confirm 100% [Ray's friend] has been released and will return to uni Monday. The only members of his family that know are his brothers and will not be telling the rest of his family.”

On the release of Ray Cole earlier this week, the fate of his friend was not mentioned.

Adrian Cole previously described his trial as a “complete farce”, and claimed that the judge did not take into account Mr Cole’s medical conditions.

Petitions had been started prior to his release, calling for the friend to be let out, and to stop the arrest of same-sex couples engaging in consensual relationships.

Dover MP Charlie Elphicke calls for Morocco travel boycott after British man jailed for ‘homosexual acts’

Charlie Elphicke is the Conservative MP for Dover and Deal

Dover MP Charlie Elphicke has called for travellers to boycott Morocco, after one of his constituents was jailed in the country for ‘homosexual acts’.

Ray Cole, 69, a retired magazine publisher from Deal in Kent, was arrested last month, during a holiday to Marrakesh to visit a Moroccan man, Jamal Jam Wald Nass.

On Thursday he was found guilty of ‘homosexual acts’ and sentenced to four months behind bars, alongside Mr Jam Wald Nass.

Charlie Elphicke, the Conservative member for Dover, told PinkNews: “I have been doing all I can to help free Mr Cole from these appalling charges.

“I urge people not to visit Morocco. If you go there you are at serious risk of facing trumped up charges for medieval crimes.

“The message is clear. Morocco is not safe for British tourists.”

Labour’s LGBT envoy Michael Cashman has also condemned Morocco, telling PinkNews: “This man should be released immediately. If not, then the Morocaans must face the economic and diplomatic consequences that will follow.”

Mr Cole’s son Adrian said previously: “The trial was a complete farce, it was just farcical.

“They’ve gone through his phone and found photographs that they’re using as evidence for a homosexual act.

“He’s had a couple of minor strokes before and has a minor heart condition. He has also been suffering with depression, which the court didn’t take into account.”

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We can confirm the detention of a British national in Morocco. We are providing consular assistance.”

Campaign to free gay Briton Ray Cole from Morocco jail

The prison where Ray Cole is detained
A campaign has been launched to free a British man who was jailed for "homosexual acts" in Morocco.
Ray Cole, from Deal, Kent, was detained with his Moroccan partner by police who approached the pair at a bus stop in Marrakech last month, his family said.
His son Adrian Cole said the retired magazine publisher, 69, was jailed for four months on Thursday.
Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke warned travellers that Morocco was unsafe for British tourists.
'Medieval crimes'
The Conservative MP told the Pink News: "I have been doing all I can to help free Mr Cole from these appalling charges.
"I urge people not to visit Morocco. If you go there you are at serious risk of facing trumped up charges for medieval crimes.
"The message is clear: Morocco is not safe for British tourists."
#freeraycole hashtag has been set up on Twitter and a Facebook page has also been set up calling for Mr Cole's release.
His family claim his health is at risk due to the conditions in the city's central prison.
Foreign Office guidelines state that homosexuality is a criminal offence in Morocco and sexual relations outside marriage are also punishable by law.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: "We can confirm the detention of a British national in Morocco.
"We are providing consular assistance."
The Moroccan Embassy has been contacted for comment.