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Appeal court upholds prison sentence for journalist Mostapha Hurmatallah

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is dismayed by the Casablanca appeal court's 18 September 2007 decision to uphold a prison sentence for reporter Mostapha Hurmatallah of the Arabic-language weekly "Al Watan Al An", one week after he was freed pending the outcome of his appeal.

"This ruling marks the end of the relative respite the Moroccan press has been enjoying of late," the press freedom organisation said. "Whatever the result of the petition that will now be made to the court of final appeal, Morocco is now clearly on a dangerous slope."

Reporters Without Borders added: "Hurmatallah's release a week ago was seen as a sign of government good faith by the many foreign journalists who came to cover the second elections held under King Mohammed. But the judicial authorities returned to their bad old ways when the spotlights were turned off."

In its decision, the Casablanca appeal court upheld Hurmatallah's prison sentence but reduced it by a month, from eights months to seven, and reduced "Al Watan Al An" editor Abderrahim Ariri's suspended prison sentence from six months to five. The court also upheld the 1,000 dirham (approx. 89 euros) fine imposed on the journalists. The original sentences were passed by a Casablanca criminal court on 15 August.

Their lawyers said they expected that Hurmatallah would remain free pending the outcome of their petition to the court of final appeal. Arrested on 17 July, Hurmatallah spent a total of 56 days in detention, most of it in Oukacha prison.

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