Publication of new weekly blocked because of content

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New York, March 31, 2000 — A hard-hitting new Moroccan political weekly has been prevented from printing its fourth edition by one of its shareholders, the Committee to Protect Journalists has learned.

The French-language weekly Demain was launched three weeks ago, but was blocked from printing its upcoming issue after shareholder Samira Aboulbaqaa refused to sign a money transfer required to pay the printer in Spain. According to Demain‘s director, Ali Lmrabet, Aboulbaqaa demanded that the paper change its editorial line.

Staff at the newspaper believe that Aboulbaqaa acted on behalf of Moroccan government officials, who were angered by Demain‘s coverage of sensitive issues such as Morocco’s territorial claims in the Western Sahara.

Under the newspaper’s corporate structure, both Lmrabet and Aboulbaqaa must approve money transfers to the printer. Aboulbaqaa became the majority shareholder on Wednesday night, after three other investors abruptly sold her their shares. The three investors later told Demain that they had been pressured to relinquish their shares, but refused to give further details, according to CPJ’s sources at the paper.

Aboulbaqaa is director general of the company HIMVEST, which is controlled by businessman Abdenasser Bouazza, who has close links to the Royal Palace, according to sources at Demain. Other Moroccan media yesterday reported Bouazza’s criticisms of Demain’s editorial line.

Last week, Demain‘s front page carried the headline “To Negotiate or Not,” along with a photo of one of the leaders of the Polisario Front, a rebel movement that is fighting for the independence of Western Sahara. The article, titled “Negotiate, Yes, but with Whom?” quoted a leaked official document to the effect that King Muhammad VI was prepared to concede “large autonomy” to the Western Sahara.

Moroccan journalists have historically been guarded in their coverage of the Western Sahara, avoiding any suggestion that Morocco might compromise its sovereign claim to the region. Even suggesting the possibility of negotiating with the Polisario was a bold editorial move, and one that seems to have infuriated Moroccan authorities.

In its two previous issues, the paper published articles on two other sensitive topics: the Islamist opposition in Morocco (“Tomorrow an Islamic State?”), and the alleged activities of Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, in Morocco (“The Mossad in Morocco: Between Myth and Reality”).