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Detained editor receives provisional release, colleague sent to prison pending trial

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders condemned judicial harassment of the Arabic-language daily "Al Watan Al An" on 24 July 2007, after the Casablanca prosecutor's office released its editor, Abderrahim Ariri, but sent one of his reporters, Mostapha Hurmatallah, to Okacha prison pending trial. Arrested on 17 July after publishing a leaked internal security memo, both have been charged with "receiving documents obtained by criminal means."

"The Moroccan justice system has again moved into action against journalists in what is looking more and more like a travesty," the press freedom organisation said. "Ariri and Hurmatallah were held for eight days in a police station, where they were continually questioned without a lawyer being present. Ariri has now been freed, but Hurmatallah has been transferred to prison. That is enough. He must be released at once and the charges against both of them must be dropped."

Reporters Without Borders added: "This is not the first time that criminal charges have been pressed against journalists. We take this prosecution very seriously, as Ariri and Hurmatallah are facing the possibility of jail terms. We will launch a campaign to try to prevent the Moroccan judicial system from being used yet again as a tool to censor the independent press."

Ariri's provisional release and Hurmatallah's transfer to prison were ordered on 24 July on the expiry of a second four-day police custody order. They had been held at judicial police headquarters in Casablanca ever since they were arrested at their homes by plain-clothes police on the morning of 17 July.

They have been charged under article 571 of the criminal code, which provides for a prison sentence of one to five years. The first hearing in their trial has been scheduled for 26 July. One of their lawyers, Abderrahim Jamaï, said there were many "murky" aspects to the case and condemned "a political manoeuvre."

Ariri reaffirmed his commitment to press freedom when reached by Reporters Without Borders. "The battle continues," he said. "My voice will not be silenced. We must launch a campaign for the release of our colleague." Ariri said he had been questioned by members of various Moroccan security services as well as by the military.

Ariri and Hurmatallah were arrested three days after writing a series of stories for the 14 July issue that were headlined, "The secret reports behind Morocco's state of alert." One of the stories was based on an intelligence agency memo - which was reproduced - urging all the security services to be vigilant after a terrorist organisation posted a video online containing "a solemn call for jihad against all the Maghrebi governments, identifying Morocco by name."

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