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Two journalists being held for publishing internal security memo on terrorist threat

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrest of Abderrahim Ariri, the publisher of the weekly "Al Watan Al An" ("The Nation Now"), and one of his journalists, Mostapha Hurmatallah, on 17 July 2007 in Casablanca after they published the text of an internal security memo circulated by the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DGST), an intelligence agency.

"It is wrong to arrest these two journalists and keep them in custody, especially as it would have sufficed to summon them for questioning," the press freedom organisation said. "It seems as if this is meant to be a warning to any journalist who might be inclined to investigate Morocco's ability to defend itself against terrorism."

Reporters Without Borders added: "We urge the Moroccan authorities to have the good sense to release them at once. The internal memo published in the weekly seems not to have contained any confidential information as it only referred to online posts that anyone can access. While it is understandable that the authorities are trying to find out who leaked the memo, the journalists should not be turned into scapegoats."

Plain-clothes police arrested Ariri and Hurmatallah at their Casablanca homes at about 7 a.m. (local time) on 17 July and took them to police headquarters for questioning. At mid-morning, about 20 police officers accompanied them to the "Al Watan Al An" office, where a search was carried out. Editor Boujemaa Achefri said they took away 90 per cent of the newspaper's files, as well as Ariri's computer, mobile phone and diary.

"Al Watan Al An"'s most recent issue, published on 14 July, contained a series of stories by Ariri et and Hurmatallah that were headlined, "The secret reports behind Morocco's state of alert." One of the stories was based on a DGST memo - which was reproduced - urging all the security services to be vigilant after a video was posted online by a terrorist organisation that contained "a solemn call for jihad against all the Maghrebi governments, identifying Morocco by name."

Morocco raised its state of alert to the highest level on 6 July, but the interior ministry has given no precise information about the possible threats.

In a statement carried by the main national TV station, prosecutor general Moulay Abdallah Alaoui Belghiti said he had ordered an investigation to find out how secret documents were leaked and who was responsible. The two journalists would be prosecuted for publishing "reports of a confidential nature linked to defence secrets," he said, adding that other documents found during the search would be used in evidence against them.

Ariri and Hurmatallah, who are due to appear in court soon, were not allowed to see their lawyers during the preliminary investigation.

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