The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly condemns today's imprisonment of journalist Ali Lmrabet, director of two weeklies, the French-language Demain and its Arabic sister publication, Douman.
According to Ahmad Bejelloun, Lmrabet's lawyer, a court in the capital, Rabat, found Lmrabet guilty of "insulting the king" and "challenging the territorial integrity of the state." He was sentenced to four years in prison and fined 20,000 Moroccan dirhams (approximately US$2,000). The court also ordered the two weeklies closed.
The charges against Lmrabet stem from articles in the magazines, including an interview with Abdullah Zaazaa, a vocal opponent of Morocco's monarchy; a satirical photomontage of the wedding of former interior minister Driss Basri's daughter, which lampooned government officials; and an article about the royal court's finances.
Immediately after the court's decision this morning, Lmrabet was taken to a prison in Sale, a city close to Rabat. According to Benjalloun, Lmrabet is continuing with the hunger strike he began on May 6 to protest his harassment.
Benjalloun said they plan to appeal the decision.
Lmrabet's conviction comes on the heels of several other troubling incidents involving independent journalists. On Friday, April 11, unidentified assailants beat Mohamed Benouna, a reporter for Douman, in the city of Settat, about 65 miles (100 kilometers) south of Casablanca, after he reported that the local governor had granted one of Your Majesty's advisers a concession to sell alcohol in the region.
On March 13, journalist Maria Mokrim, a reporter for the weekly Al-Ayam, received anonymous threatening phone calls and was physically assaulted after she wrote an article describing how the Moroccan Secret Service functions.
These incidents, combined with today's sentence against Lmrabet, are extremely troubling. Imprisoning journalists simply for reporting on matters of public interest, or for publishing satirical material, is a grave violation of internationally accepted standards of free expression. Lmrabet's imprisonment is certain to have a chilling effect on other independent journalists working in Morocco. We call on your Majesty to do everything within your power to ensure that Lmrabet is released immediately, that all charges against him are dropped, and that his publications are reopened. We also urge you to ensure that those who attacked journalists Benouna and Mokrim are arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law so that the Moroccan media can practice their profession freely, without fear of reprisal.
Ann K. Cooper