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Appeal court upholds heavy damages award against leading Arab-language daily

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is stunned by a Rabat appeal court's 30 October 2008 ruling to uphold a lower court's decision in March 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 fine of 120,000 dirhams (approx. 11,000 euros) in a libel case.

"We deeply regret this ruling which just confirms the fragility of the gains achieved by the press in Morocco," Reporters Without Borders said. "A commitment on the part of the state to free expression would require an overhaul of the laws on press offences and training of judges. Only this would enable Morocco's judicial system to respond in a fair and democratic manner to defamation suits."

The press freedom organisation added: "In this particular case, how can the appeal court judges ignore the fact that their decision is liable to jeopardise the newspaper's survival? We continue to wonder about the motives of Morocco's judges, who are very severe towards the country's independent press."

The lower court ordered the exorbitant damages and fine on 25 March in a libel case brought against the newspaper by four deputy prosecutors in the northern town of Ksar Al-Kébir over an article that said regional officials had attended a supposedly gay marriage ceremony. The officials were not identified.

Nini told Reporters Without Borders: "This ruling is very serious because it sets a legal precedent for press cases. Tomorrow, another newspaper could be ordered to pay a similarly astronomical sum. This ruling is a disgrace for my country."

Morocco was ranked 122nd out of 173 countries in the press freedom index which Reporters Without Borders issued on 22 October.

Updates the Nini case:

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