The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is writing to protest the recent harassment and physical attacks on independent journalists in Morocco.
Ali Lmrabet, director of two independent Casablanca-based weeklies, the French-language Demain and its Arabic sister publication Douman, has been subjected to an organized campaign of legal harassment by government authorities.
Lmrabet told CPJ that police have questioned him twice this month. On April 1, police summoned him to a station in the capital, Rabat, and questioned him about recent articles that have appeared in his magazines, including an interview with Abdullah Zaazaa, a vocal opponent of the monarchy; a satirical photomontage of the wedding of former interior minister Driss Basri’s daughter; and an article about the royal court’s finances. Lmrabet told CPJ that police accused him of “insulting sacred institutions.”
On April 10, he was questioned again about the same articles. Lmrabet has not been officially charged with any crime.
On Friday, April 11, Lmrabet said that police officers went to the offices of Ecoprint, the printing house that publishes Demain and Douman, and questioned the staff about the weeklies.
Today, Lmrabet told CPJ that he was prevented from boarding a flight to Paris when two Moroccan secret service agents told him that they had orders to prevent him from leaving the country.
According to Lmrabet, in addition to the legal harassment, Douman reporter Mohamed Benouna was physically assaulted on April 11 by a group of unidentified men in Settat, a town about 65 miles south of Casablanca. Lmrabet said that Benouna had written an article published in Douman‘s April 9 edition reporting that the governor of Settat had granted a concession for the sale of alcohol in the province to Andre Azoulay, the royal adviser for economic and financial matters. The assailants beat Benouna and stripped him of his pants, telling him never to write about the governor again.
In a separate case, journalist Maria Mokrim, with the independent weekly Al-Ayyam told CPJ that she received a series of threatening phone calls on her mobile phone in March regarding article she had penned in January about the Moroccan Secret Service.
Mokrim said that on March 13, while she was in a taxi leaving Al-Ayyam‘s offices in Casablanca, she received a threatening phone call. When Mokrim demanded to know who the caller was, he responded that he was “one of the people that you dared insult.” She said that the caller accused her of being a traitor and said he was a “defender of the king.” The caller told her that he could see her in the taxi and warned her that she might get in an “accident.”
When Mokrim exited the taxi, a young man approached her and hit her on the shoulder with a large stick. Mokrim said that the blow did not injure her seriously. When she grabbed another taxi, the caller who had threatened her phoned again and asked if she had learned her lesson.
Your Majesty, these incidents are a grave threat to press freedom in Morocco. CPJ condemns these violent intimidation tactics that are being used to silence the independent press. We urge you to do everything within your power to ensure that this harassment stops. We also call on you to ensure that the perpetrators are prosecuted for their actions and that independent journalists in Morocco are allowed to conduct their professional work without government intimidation or interference.
We look forward to your attention to these serious matters.