May 18, 2006
Limiting Freedom of Press in Morocco
Human Rights Watch published a report earlier this month on the prosecution of independent newspapers in Morrocco. Politically motivated prosecutions of these newsweeklies are rolling back press freedom in Morocco.
The introduction to this briefing states that in the last fifteen years, the press in Morocco has enjoyed growing freedom to cover sensitive issues, including human rights, social and economic problems, and corruption. It has been among the most outspoken media in North Africa. However, In the last year, the courts have imposed heavy fines or suspended prison sentences on four weeklies or their journalists.
“These recent prosecutions show how the authorities use the press code to restrict freedom of expression, especially on issues like the monarchy and the Western Sahara,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch.
In regards to this, Reporters without Borders stated last week that on May 9th a Casablanca Court of Appeal upheld a suspended sentence of a year in prison and a fine of 100,000 dirhams (9,000 euros) for Driss Chahtane. He is the editor of the Arabic-language weekly Al Michaâl,and allegedly libelled Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The case was about a cartoon of the Bouteflika published in the last year’s 6 June 2005 issue together with a satirical article about his private life. According to reports, the lawyers of the paper Al Michaâl refused to address the court considering that the conditions of a fair trial had not been guaranteed.
In its report, HRW has called for the Moroccan government to:
- drastically limit criminal penalties for speech offenses;
- make libel a matter for civil courts only Moroccan and foreign officials
- narrow the scope of provisions punishing statements that
are seen as offensive to the monarchy, Islam or the Morocco’s
If you get a chance take a look at the blog, Tabsir: Insight on Islam and the Middle East,Dr. Moncef Marzouki, a Tunisian activist, provides some insight on what happened to some Arab journalists who tried to have a dialogue on the publishing of the Islamic cartoons.
“Al-Asadi is between the heavy hammer of political totalitarianism and the deeper totalitarianism of the society. We are all morally obliged to stand by him and to step up our rhetoric to attack totalitarianism.
Journalism, the most important tool of democracy – represented by Al-Asadi – is under siege in Yemen and the whole Arab world on two fronts, not a single one.”
Journalism is one of the worst threats for Arab states under a totalitarian rule.