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Tension affects news conference in Casablanca in support of Moroccan media

(RSF/IFEX) - 28 October 2009 - Reporters Without Borders managed to give a news conference yesterday in Casablanca but, in a sign of the tension in its relations with the government, was unable to hold it as scheduled in a meeting room of the Royal Al-Mansour Hotel, although Communication Minister Khalid Naciri had previously given it his blessing.

An improvised news conference was instead held in the hotel's lobby in the presence of many Moroccan and foreign journalists.

"Reporters Without Borders came to express its support for Moroccan journalists, who are currently being subjected to an avalanche of lawsuits and prosecutions, and to demonstrate its solidarity with Idriss Chahtane, the managing editor of the newspaper Al-Michaal, who is in prison," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said.

"The fact that this news conference could not be held in a normal fashion is a clear indication of government tension and the delicate nature of this situation," Julliard continued. "The communication minister felt he had been duped about the latest Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and about its press releases, and did not want to see us.

"Despite the tension, Reporters Without Borders is ready to propose solutions for a reform of the press law with the help of a legal committee which our organisation has recently created. We will also mobilise our network of lawyers in France, Europe and elsewhere to attend the trials and defend the journalists who are being tried and convicted."

Julliard added: "We further intend to formally refer the difficulties and lack of media diversity to US secretary of state Hillary Clinton before her first official visit to Morocco for the Forum of the Future, being held in Marrakesh on 2-3 November."

Created as a result of a Bush administration initiative in 2004, the Forum of the Future aims to promote democratisation in the so-called Broader Middle East and North Africa region.

After the news conference, Julliard met with journalists and representatives of news media who have been targeted by the current wave of lawsuits and harsh sentences.

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