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Journalist Mostapha Hurmatallah sent back to prison

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced dismay on learning that reporter Mostapha Hurmatallah of the Arabic-language weekly "Al Watan Al An" was sent back to prison on 19 February 2008 as a result of a decision by the country's court of final appeal on 13 February confirming a seven-month prison sentence. Hurmatallah had been on conditional release.

"We are outraged that Hurmatallah has been imprisoned again," the press freedom organisation said. "This case was the cause of a serious deterioration in press freedom in Morocco last year. We had naively assumed that his provisional release could indicate a desire to reduce the tension, but we were wrong. Re-imprisoning a journalist who has committed no crime leaves us shocked and concerned about the state of freedoms in Morocco."

The ruling by the country's highest appeal court in Casablanca upheld a lower appeal court's decision confirming Hurmatallah's conviction on a charge of "receiving documents obtained by criminal means." The case was prompted by a series of stories in the 14 July 2007 issue headlined "The secret reports behind Morocco's state of alert." He was initially sentenced on 15 August 2007 to eight months in prison but the appeal court reduced the sentence in September 2007 to seven months and a fine of 1,000 dirhams (approx. 89 euros).

Reached by Reporters Without Borders, "Al Watan Al An" editor Abderrahim Ariri, who got a five-month suspended sentence from the appeal court in September, criticised the ambiguity of a government that "promises a liberal press law while issuing prison sentences against journalists".

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