Journalists harassed over Ben Barka coverage

New York, July 13, 2001 — CPJ is disturbed by the recent Moroccan government harassment of Alain Chabod, deputy chief editor of France 3 Public Television, and Ali Lmrabet, director of the Moroccan weekly Demain Magazine, as well as by the temporary freeze on the printing of Demain.

Moroccan secret service (DST) agents began following Chabod on June 6, while he was in the country investigating recent revelations about the 1965 disappearance of dissident leader Mehdi Ben Barka.

The Ben Barka story broke on June 30, when a former DST agent named Ahmed Boukhari told Radio France Internationale that he had new evidence linking top Moroccan officials to the torture and killing of Ben Barka. In an interview with the station, Boukhari said he would cooperate with French authorities investigating the case.

After this interview, Chabod told CPJ, he and other French journalists flew to Morocco in hopes of talking to Boukhari. Chabod first noticed that he was being followed on June 6, after meeting with Ahmed Boukhari’s son, Karim, in a public place in the capital Rabat.

On July 6, two DST officials visited the offices of Safaprint, the printer that produces Demain Magazine. According to Lmrabet, the agents ordered the company to stop printing the magazine and then left the premises after confiscating several copies of the current issue.

Lmrabet told CPJ that the issue contained a handwritten letter from Ahmed Boukhari, dated December 2000, in which the agent claimed to have information about the Ben Barka case.

Seven hours later, the DST agents returned to Safaprint and announced that Demain Magazine could be printed after all.

On July 7 at about 11:00 a.m., Chabod and Lmrabet were driving in a Rabat suburb when two men approached their car. One of the men photographed Lmrabet and verbally threatened him. Lmrabet told CPJ that he was able to note the license plate of the car. Chabod identified the two men as the DST agents who had followed him after his interview with Karim Boukhari.

These actions point to a disturbing pattern of government restrictions on press freedom in Morocco over the last two years. State tactics have included censorship, the criminal prosecution of journalists, and other forms of harassment directed against reporters.

CPJ raised a number of these cases with Prime Minister Youssoufi in letters dated April 19, 2000 and May 17, 2000.