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Al-Jazeera Rabat bureau chief charged with publishing false information, his press accreditation cancelled

(RSF/IFEX) - A charge of publishing false information, that was brought against Al-Jazeera Rabat bureau chief Hassan Rachidi on 13 June 2008, quickly followed by the immediate withdrawal of his press accreditation without waiting for him to be tried, were condemned by Reporters Without Borders as "excessive."

Rachidi is to be prosecuted for quoting a human rights group's claim that protesters were killed in clashes with the police, although the Qatar-based satellite TV station subsequently issued a correction.

"It makes no sense to press charges against Rachidi after the news media he represents recognised its mistake by publishing the government's denial of the apparently false information," Reporters Without Borders said. "Worse still was the communication ministry's decision to withdraw the accreditation he needs to work, punishing him as if he was guilty before he has been tried."

The press freedom organisation added: "these actions constitute persecution and highlight the government's hostility towards Al-Jazeera and its staff in Morocco. Why is this? We hope to find out if Rachidi's trial goes ahead. Meanwhile, we call for the immediate restitution of his accreditation."

Rachidi and Ibrahim Sebaa El Layl, a representative of the Moroccan Committee for Human Rights (CMDH), were notified on 13 June that they have been charged with "publishing false information and complicity" under article 42 of the press law for reporting that several people were killed in clashes between jobless protesters and police on 9 June in the southern city of Sidi Ifni. The claim was made in a CMDH press release that was quoted by Al-Jazeera.

The authorities disputed the CMDH claim, insisting instead that the clashes had resulted in 48 injured (including 28 policemen) and 188 arrests. Although Al-Jazeera reported the official figures in a strip across the bottom of the screen, the communication ministry accused Rachidi of "persisting in giving credence to this false allegation."

Rachidi told Reporters Without Borders that the ministry withdrew his accreditation just half an hour after he had been notified of the charges. His trial has been set for 1 July.

Relations between Al-Jazeera and the Moroccan government have deteriorated. In May, the station was forced to stop broadcasting a daily news programme covering the Maghreb from its studios in Rabat.

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