Tomorrow’s trial of seven Moroccan journalists and activists on charges including “undermining state security” and “failing to report foreign funding,” is part of a calculated crackdown on freedom of expression, Amnesty International said.
The seven are due to face trial for taking part in a foreign-funded project to train people to use smartphones for citizen journalism. The court papers show that authorities believe that grassroots journalism may “destabilize Moroccans’ trust in their institutions.”
“This case clearly demonstrates that Morocco's government is stepping up its attacks on press freedom. Helping Moroccans harness smartphone technology to report on what is going on in the country is not a crime, and it is outrageous that it is being treated as a state security offence. Moroccans have the right to receive and spread information about what is happening in their country,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director.
Five of the seven face penalties of up to five years in prison, under national security laws, if convicted. Amnesty International is calling on authorities to drop the charges against the seven defendants.
Tomorrow’s trial is just the latest episode in a mounting crackdown on freedom of expression in Morocco.
In another high-profile case, on January 21, the country’s terrorism court charged a leading independent journalist, Ali Anouzla, with “advocating,” “supporting,” and “inciting” terrorism.
The charges relate to an article published in 2013 on his popular news website Lakome.com in which Ali Anouzla criticized a video by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He was arrested and detained for over a month following the publication and the website was taken down. If found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
Ali Anouzla has also been charged in a separate case with “threatening national integrity” for an interview he gave to the German daily newspaper Bild last November after receiving the Raif Badawi Prize for Courageous Journalists, in which he allegedly used the term “occupied Western Sahara.” The journalist insists that the newspaper mistranslated his words, and that he had referred to the territory simply as the “Sahara.” Moroccan authorities claim sovereignty over Western Sahara, a territory south of Morocco which it annexed in 1975. If found guilty, he risks up to five years in prison under the current Press Code.
“Morocco's authorities must drop the charges against Ali Anouzla and stop prosecuting journalists for doing their work, as well as peaceful activists, on state security and counter-terrorism charges. They must call a halt to their ongoing campaign to quash dissenting voices and scare people into self-censorship,” said Boumedouha.
The defendants in tomorrow’s court case are:
- Maati Monjib, 53, historian and founder of the Ibn Rochd Center for Studies and Communication, president of the NGO Freedom Now (which he set up jointly with Ali Anouzla) and a member of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI). A regular commentator on Moroccan politics in international media, think tanks and academic forums, he is thought to be the main figure targeted in this prosecution.
- Abdessamad Ait Aicha (known as Samad Iach), 31, journalist and former employee at the Ibn Rochd Center for Studies and Communication, and AMJI member.
- Hicham Mansouri, 35, journalist and former AMJI employee, recently released from prison after serving a 10-month sentence in what Amnesty International fears was a politically-motivated conviction.
- Hicham Khreibchi (known as Hicham Al-Miraat), 39, medical doctor, founder and former president of the Digital Rights Association (ADN), as well as former advocacy director for Global Voices.
- Mohamed Essaber/Sber, 44, president of the Moroccan Association for the Education of Youth (AMEJ).
- Maria Moukrim, 39, journalist, former AMJI president.
- Rachid Tarik, 68, journalist (retired), AMJI president.
Several defendants are also former supporters or members of the February 20 Movement, Morocco’s peaceful pro-democracy and anti-corruption protest movement that emerged in 2011 in the context of popular uprisings in the region.