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Another large fine imposed on embattled Arabic-language daily

(RSF/IFEX) - Rachid Nini, the publisher of the "Al-Massae" newspaper, was fined another 600,000 dirhams (approx. 54,000 euros) by a Casablanca court on 1 December 2008 for allegedly libelling a prominent lawyer. The judgment increases the likelihood that Morocco's leading Arabic-language daily will be forced to close.

"Al-Massae" had already said it would probably have to shut down after an appeal court ruling on 30 October confirming that it would have 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 separate libel case.

"Everyone has the right to sue if they think they have been defamed, but the media must also be guaranteed the right to a fair and impartial trial," Reporters Without Borders said. "For nearly two years, the Moroccan courts have shown a lack of independence in trial after trial. If this latest ruling is not overturned on appeal, 'Al-Massae' will be forced to close and this would have disastrous consequences, not only for media diversity but also for the ability of all journalists to speak their mind in Morocco."

The latest libel suit against "Al-Massae" was brought by Mohammed Ziane, the head of the Rabat bar association. Ziane represented the four deputy prosecutors from the northern town of Ksar Al Kébir who obtained the massive damages award against Nini in October which neither he nor the newspaper is able to pay.

Four days after the October ruling, Nini reported that a court bailiff had blocked both his personal account and the account of the company that publishes the newspaper.

Ziane's suit was prompted by an article alleging that he had fraudulently acquired land in the north of the country. "The courts have become a tool for censoring the independent press in Morocco," Nini told Reporters Without Borders. "Whoever sues our newspaper is nowadays guaranteed to win."

Updates the "Al-Massae" case: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/98048

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