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Record damages award against editor of leading daily in libel suit

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is shocked by a Rabat court ruling on 25 March 2008 ordering Rachid Nini, editor of the daily newspaper "Al-Massae", to pay a total of 6 million dirhams (approx. 550,000 euros) in damages and a 120,000 dirham (approx. 11,000 euros) fine in lawsuits brought by four deputy prosecutors accusing him of libel and "public insult."

"We are outraged by the exorbitant size of the damages award," the press freedom organisation said. "This is not the first time Morocco's courts have acted with a heavy hand. Certain recent court rulings have badly hurt leading Moroccan media and could lead to their disappearance. Judges should impose sentences that are proportionate to the damage caused and should ensure that press freedom is not endangered."

Four deputy prosecutors filed separate lawsuits against Nini in early February claiming they had been defamed by a report published on 18 November in his newspaper. With a circulation of 100,000, "Al-Massae" is Morocco's most widely-read daily.

Without naming them, the report claimed that four judges had attended an alleged homosexual party in Ksar Al-Kébir, a small town in northern Morocco. Seven people who attended the party were sentenced by a Rabat appeal court on 16 January to sentences ranging from four to ten months in prison.

Nini told Reporters Without Borders that the court ruling was "inexplicable and unacceptable" and reflected "a desire to destroy my newspaper and restrict free expression in Morocco." He intends to appeal.

Nini was the victim of a knife attack outside Rabat's main railway station on 3 February. He told Agence France-Presse at the time that he was surprised that the attack took place while he was being sued.

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