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Casablanca court sentences newspaper editor to one year in prison

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is dismayed by the one-year jail sentence and fine of 100 euros that a Casablanca court passed, on 9 June 2011, on Rachid Nini, the editor of "Al-Massae", one of Morocco's leading newspapers, at the end of a trial marked by judicial intransigence, repeated adjournments and a refusal to free him on bail.

Held since 28 April, the newspaper editor was tried on charges of disinformation and attacking state institutions, public figures and the "security and integrity of the nation and citizens" under articles 263, 264 and 266 of the criminal code.

Nini's lawyer, Khaled Sufiani, said he would appeal. "This is a very bad development for justice and civil liberties in Morocco," he told Reporters Without Borders. "This is a clear warning to journalists, so that they feel threatened when they exercise their freedom of expression."

"We are alarmed to see criminal charges being brought in a press case," Reporters Without Borders said. "This precedent opens the way to many abuses and to the withdrawal of the press law as an effective legal tool. We urge the Moroccan courts to reverse this decision."

The press freedom organisation added: "Three months after King Mohammed spoke of constitutional reforms in an address, the sentence imposed on Rachid Nini is tantamount to a retraction. Imprisoning a journalist is the mark of authoritarian regimes. No progress towards democracy is possible without respect for media freedom."

Reporters Without Borders wrote to the justice minister on 20 May warning against trying Nini without reference to the press law. If journalists are accused of abusing freedom of expression, "any prosecution should be carried out solely under the provisions of Morocco's press law" and any punishment should be "envisaged by the law, necessary, legitimate and proportionate," the letter said.

"Al-Massae" journalists told Reporters Without Borders that the prosecution was prompted by articles which criticised corruption, including corruption among close associates of the king, and raised questions about Fouad Ali El-Himma, the head of the Authenticity and Modernity Party. Nini also wrote about intelligence chief Abdellatif Hammouchi and called for the repeal of the anti-terrorism law.
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