Calls for immediate release of jailed editors

New York, June 12, 2003—A delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) met with Moroccan ambassador to the United States, Aziz Mekouar, in Washington, D.C., today to express its deep concern about the recent imprisonment of two Moroccan editors and to call for their immediate release.

  • Ali Lmrabet, owner and editor of two weeklies, the French-language Demain and its Arabic sister publication, Douman, was jailed on May 21 after a court in the capital, Rabat, found him 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 (US$2,000). The court also ordered the two weeklies closed.

Lmrabet’s conviction stems from articles and cartoons published in the two magazines, including an interview with Abdullah Zaazaa, an opponent of Morocco’s monarchy who called for the self-determination of the people of Western Sahara; a satirical photomontage showing photos from the wedding of former Interior Minister Driss Basri’s daughter superimposed on a photo from King Muhammad VI’s wedding, an article about the royal court’s finances, and a cartoon that criticized public displays of reverence to authority. Lmrabet has been on a hunger strike since May 6 to protest the legal case against him. He is currently in a hospital in Rabat as a result of the strike. A decision in his appeal is scheduled for June 17.

  • Mustafa Alaoui, editor of the weekly Al-Ousboua, was detained on June 5 under Morocco’s recently enacted anti-terrorism law. Alaoui was arrested for publishing a communiqué issued by an Islamist group that claimed responsibility for some of the multiple suicide bombings in Casablanca on May 16.

    Alaoui, who suffers from diabetes, is also reportedly in poor health in Sale prison near Rabat.

“These jailings mark a significant deterioration in press freedoms in Morocco,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Simply put, journalists should never be jailed for their words or opinions.” Cooper, who attended the meeting along with CPJ board member Josh Friedman, CPJ Middle East program coordinator Joel Campagna, and CPJ Washington representative Frank Smyth, added that Morocco now joins Tunisia and Egypt as the other countries in the Arab world that currently imprison journalists.

“Morocco’s press is at a critical point. No matter how unsettled the government feels by criticism, it must remain true to its stated commitments to a free press,” said CPJ board member Friedman. “The imprisonment of these editors seriously jeopardizes Morocco’s reputation as a country that tolerates a more open press than its neighbors.”
Ambassador Mekouar told the delegation that he would convey CPJ’s concerns to the Moroccan government.