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Journalist Mostapha Hurmatallah freed pending outcome of appeal against eight-month jail term

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders hails the Casablanca appeal court's decision on 11 September 2007 to grant a request for the provisional release of "Al Watan Al An" reporter Mostapha Hurmatallah pending the outcome of his appeal against an eight-month prison sentence for publishing a leaked internal security memo.

"We are pleased that a judge finally agreed to put an end to this journalist's imprisonment, which was unacceptable," the organisation said. "We now hope that Hurmatallah will be acquitted on appeal. This would be the only honourable outcome to a case that has done great harm to press freedom in Morocco and has traumatised its journalists."

Four lawyers spoke in Hurmatallah's defence during the first hearing in his appeal case. They said Hurmatallah and his editor, Abderrahim Ariri, could not be accused of "receiving and concealing" state documents as they had already published them. They also disputed the charge of "violating state security" on the grounds that the two journalists had only wanted to inform the Moroccan public about issues involving its security. "The press hides nothing and reveals everything," one of the lawyers told the court.

The judge consented to their request for Hurmatallah's provisional release after they argued that the journalist, who is married and has one child, needed to be with his family during "the sacred month of Ramadan." Previous requests for his release had been turned down.

Hurmatallah had been detained since 17 July, the date on which he and his editor were arrested over a series of stories in the 14 July issue headlined, "The secret reports behind Morocco's state of alert." A Casablanca court convicted them on 15 August of "receiving documents obtained by criminal means" under article 571 of the criminal code. Ariri, who had been released on 24 July, received a six-month suspended sentence but Hurmatallah was ordered to serve a sentence of eight months in prison.

The appeal court is expected to issue its decision on 18 September.

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