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Politicised court cases, media law, harassment undermine press gains, says CPJ report

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a CPJ press release:

The Moroccan Façade
A CPJ Special Report: Politicized court cases, media law, harassment undermine a nation's press gains.

New York, July 3, 2007 - Moroccan authorities have come to rely on a stealthy system of judicial and financial controls to keep enterprising journalists in check, the Committee to Protect Journalists has found in a new report, "The Moroccan Façade." In a series of politicized court cases over the last two years, at least five Moroccan journalists have been hit with disproportionate financial penalties, five have been handed suspended jail terms, and one was banned from practicing journalism altogether.

Authorities have exploited a politicized judiciary and a restrictive press law to clamp down on the press. Broad legal prohibitions against disrespecting the monarchy and Islam, and criticizing state institutions such as the army and judiciary provide prosecutors and judges with a useful tool to punish - and dissuade - critical journalism. Publications that have written critically about the monarchy are targeted, with punishment most severe for journalists deemed beyond the palace's control.

The recent sanctions have occurred against a backdrop of other disturbing long-term trends. In the last five years, three Moroccan journalists have gone to jail for extended periods for their published work - ranking Morocco alongside Tunisia as the Arab world's leading jailer of journalists. Beyond the courts, Moroccan officials have intensified pressures such as advertising boycotts, the use of state media to attack critics, and the covert planning of "demonstrations" against outspoken newspapers.

"Eight years into King Mohammed's reign, Moroccan leaders need to put words into action to demonstrate their professed commitment to democratization and press freedom," write the authors, CPJ's Joel Campagna and Kamel Labidi.

The report, based on a 10-day mission to Rabat and Casablanca, is available online.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.cpj.org

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