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JOURNALISTS CONVICTED FOR PUBLISHING SECRET DOCUMENTS

Two Moroccan journalists who published secret government documents that revealed terrorist threats against Morocco were sentenced to prison last week, IFEX members report.

Mustafa Hormatallah, a journalist for Arabic-language weekly "Al Watan al An", was sentenced to eight months in jail, and his editor, Abderrahim Ariri, was given a suspended six-month sentence on 15 August for handling "documents obtained by criminal means." The Casablanca court also fined them each 1,000 Dirhams (US$120).

The case against Ariri and Hormatallah stems from a 14 July article that reproduced a confidential intelligence agency memo that discussed the monitoring of jihadist websites and asked all security services to be vigilant.

Ariri and Hormatallah were arrested on 17 July and while Ariri was released a week later, Hormatallah remained behind bars and is now officially serving his eight-month sentence.

"We had come to hear a verdict acquitting us, but instead we heard an unjust verdict," Ariri told the press after the trial.

The prison sentence was termed "unacceptable" by Younes Moujahid, secretary general of Morocco's press trade union (SNPM). "It is a threat to all journalists, whose job is to publish reports and documents," he says.

The verdict comes at a time when Moroccan journalists are coming under increased harassment from the authorities. In another case, Ahmed Benchemsi, publisher of Arabic-language weekly "Nichane" and its sister weekly, the French-language "TelQuel", will appear in court on 24 August, accused of lack of respect for King Mohammed VI. He faces a possible sentence of between three and five years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 Dirhams (US$11,000) for articles criticising the King on his proposals for legislative elections on 7 September. The two publications were seized from newsstands and other locations around the country.

Benchemsi was the recipient of the Samir Kassir award in June.

In a special report released last month, CPJ noted that press freedom in Morocco has notably regressed in recent years. Independent journalists have been the target of a series of politicised court cases, financial pressures, and harassment from authorities.

Visit these links:
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=23288
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=5214&Language=EN
- CPJ: http://tinyurl.com/2kgrrq
- CPJ special report, "The Moroccan Façade": http://tinyurl.com/3dfvea
- "IFEX Communique" on Samir Kassir awards: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/83899
- SNPM: http://www.snpm.ma/def.asp?codelangue=24&po=2
- Sapa-AFP: http://tinyurl.com/yoml3f
- Blog on censorship in Morocco: http://tinyurl.com/29hdvu
(21 August 2007)

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