(ANHRI/IFEX) - 23 October 2009 - Calling on the Moroccan government to stop the current crackdown against press freedom, 31 IFEX members and others condemn the recent arrests and harassment of journalists and independent press:
We, the undersigned organisations defending freedom of expression, call on the Moroccan government to stop the current crackdown against press freedom, which has become the most serious since King Mohamed VI was crowned in 1999.
Repression of free expression rights has been escalating for the last three months. After publishing a survey about the King's rule, two magazines, "TelQuel" and "Nichane", were confiscated in early August 2009 because they had disrespected King Mohammed VI and "violated public morality."
On 28 September, the Ministry of the Interior closed down "Akhbar al-Youm" without a court order and the newspaper's editor, Taoufik Bouachrine, and cartoonist Kalid Kadar were brought to court on charges for printing a cartoon that was considered "disrespectful of a member of the royal family."
Despite procedural violations, on 15 October 2009, a Rabat misdemeanor court sentenced Driss Chahtan, editor of "Al-Michaal" newspaper, to one year in prison for publishing articles on the King's health. He was imprisoned directly after the ruling. Rashid Mahameed and Mostafa Hiran, reporters of the same paper, were also sentenced to three months in prison and fined 5,000 dirham (US$655) each, though they have not been arrested.
In a separate case, editor Ali Anouzla and reporter Bochra Daou of the independent daily "Al-Jarida Al-Oula" are also being tried for publishing articles on the King's health and are accused of "intentionally publishing false information." The ruling on their case is scheduled for 26 October.
These trials, all directed at independent papers, demonstrate severe setbacks to freedom of expression in Morocco, which puts the press in jeopardy across the Arab region. The country was once a role model of press freedom for Arabic newspapers.
Imprisoning journalists and confiscating papers in Morocco is a violation of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Moroccan government is a party. Article 19 (2) reads:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
We condemn the politically motivated trials and the on-going harassment of journalists who are carrying out their professional duties by reporting on matters of public interest.
In solidarity with the Moroccan press, we request that the government immediately stop this crackdown against press freedom by lifting the ban on "Akhbar al-Youm", overturning the criminal cases filed against journalists and repealing legislation that allows for criminal defamation.
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Arab Archives Institute
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala - CERIGUA
Comité por la Libre Expresión - C-Libre
Committee to Protect Journalists
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Exiled Journalists Network
Greek Helsinki Monitor
Index on Censorship
Institute of Mass Information
International Press Institute
Media Institute of Southern Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF)
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms - MADA
Public Association "Journalists"
Reporters Without Borders
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
Al-Karamah "Dignity" Foundation for Human Rights, Egypt
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, Egypt
Arab Commission for Human Rights
Arab-European Forum for Human Rights
Arab Organization for Supporting the Civil Society and Human Rights
Arabic Program for Human Rights Activists, Egypt
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Egypt
Awlad Alard Organization for Human Rights
Bahraini Association for Human Rights
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights
Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies, Syria
Egyptian Association against Torture
Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
Euro-Arab Forum for Freedom of Expression
General Assembly for Human Rights Defenders in the Arab World, France
Hisham Mubarak Law Center, Egypt
Human Rights First Society, Saudi Arabia
Nadeem Center for Psychological Therapy and Rehabilitation of the Victims of Violence, Egypt
One World for Development and Sustainability of Civil Society
Palestinian Human Rights Foundation (Monitor)
Reporters without Rights
Voix Libre pour les Droits de l'homme, Switzerland
Yemeni Organization for the Defense of Democratic Rights and Freedom