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Journalists interrogated over article on king's health

(CPJ/IFEX) New York, September 4, 2009 - The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Moroccan authorities to end an investigation of two journalists who have already been interrogated for 40 hours over an article about the health of the king. Authorities have repeatedly pressed them to reveal their sources, according to their lawyer.

Editor Ali Anouzla and journalist Bochra Daou of the independent daily Al-Jarida al-Oula ‎were detained on Tuesday and released Thursday night, the journalists' lawyer, Hassan Semlali‎, told CPJ. Semlali said the Rabat Prosecution Office accused them of publishing false news about King Mohamed VI's health in an August 27 article that reported he was ill with a virus.

"This is over-the-top harassment - reporting on the health of the king is legitimate news and does not warrant such treatment," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "We call on the Rabat Prosecution Office to immediately end this investigation."

Anouzla told CPJ that in the course of three days the two underwent five interrogation sessions in which they were asked why they published the story. "They wanted to know whether there were any political reasons for the article and wanted to obtain the identity ‎of the medical sources‎," Anouzla said. He said that they refused to reveal their sources.

Authorities have prosecuted Al-Jarida Al-Oula before. On June 29, a court in Casablanca ordered the newspaper along with two other papers to pay a fine of 100,000 dirhams (US$12,484) and damages of 1 million dirhams ‎‎(US$125,213) to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi after they published articles critical of the leader in 2008 and early 2009, CPJ research shows.

In late July, CPJ sent a letter to King Mohamed VI expressing disappointment with the continued use of the courts to suppress freedom of expression and impose excessive fines on critical journalists in Morocco.

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