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Suspended jail terms, exorbitant damages award against newspaper publisher and cartoonist

(RSF/IFEX) - A Casablanca court has handed down three-year suspended jail sentences to Taoufiq Bouachrine, publisher of "Akhbar al-Youm" newspaper, and cartoonist Khalid Gueddar and ordered them to pay a colossal 270,000 euros in damages to Prince Moulay Ismaïl, a cousin of the king, for a cartoon of the prince published in the paper last month.

The sentences were issued as a result of a suit brought by the prince accusing the two of "failing to accord due respect to a member of the royal family." The court imposed additional one-year suspended jail sentences and a fine of 9,000 euros in a parallel case brought by the interior ministry accusing them of "attacking an emblem of the kingdom."

The court also ordered the newspaper's "definitive closure." The two journalists said they would appeal the verdicts in both cases.

"Despite our many protests, a demonstration outside the Moroccan embassy in Paris, a meeting with three advisers to the Moroccan ambassador in Paris, and a news conference in Casablanca attended by Bouachrine and Gueddar, we now have to express our deep disappointment about these verdicts, which sent a grim warning to the Moroccan press," Reporters Without Borders said.

The press freedom organisation added: "We hope there will be a royal pardon but meanwhile we have published the letter we sent to Hillary Clinton, as we said we would do during the Casablanca press conference on 27 October."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began a two-day visit to Morocco on 2 November.

Read the letter to Secretary of State Clinton

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