Court bails "Satanist" heavy metal fans

A Moroccan court has freed on bail 11 heavy metal music enthusiasts controversially jailed for offences against morality and linked by the prosecution to a "Satanist" cult.

Three others were refused bail.

Defence lawyer Mahfoud Billeh said on Wednesday the 11 were freed on Tuesday night by the Casablanca court pending hearing of appeals against sentences of between one and six months.

They were convicted on March 6 under laws covering distribution of written or visual material which "undermines good morals" and "making people listen, with bad intent, to songs which contravene good morals or incite debauchery."

The three refused bail were sentenced to a year in prison for "employing seductive methods with the aim of undermining the faith of a Muslim."

Many commentators in the North African kingdom reacted with outrage to the convictions and suggested they reflected a conservative witch-hunt against young music fans.

Parents, friends and college supervisors of the 14, who are aged between 22 and 35, argued that the case arose from a misunderstanding of the heavy metal sub-culture and should never have come to court.

During the trial, the prosecution charged that the defendants, most of whom play in local heavy metal bands, were linked to an organised "Satanist" cult.

It showed the court items such as an ashtray in the form of a skull, heavy metal CDs and black T-shirts worn by the accused.

The decision to grant bail to the 11 was a positive development, Billeh said. "Evidently, the reaction of civil society has played a role."

The defence expected to secure bail for the remaining three after resolving questions of bail guarantees, he added.