Morocco: Conviction of imprisoned journalist upheld

New York, June 17, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the decision of an appeals court in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, to uphold journalist Ali Lmrabet’s May 21 criminal conviction, which resulted in his imprisonment and the banning of his magazines.

According to Lmrabet’s lawyer, the court decided to reduce the prison sentence from four to three years, but kept the ban on the French language weekly Demain and its Arabic sister publication Douman. The 20,000-dirham (US$2,000) fine that the previous court levied on Lmrabet was also upheld.

His lawyer said that the next step is to file an appeal to have the case heard at the Supreme Court. He also said that due to Lmrabet’s poor health, the result of a hunger strike he began on May 6 to protest his harassment and imprisonment, Lmrabet did not attend today’s hearing. The journalist is currently at the Ibn Sina hospital in Rabat.

Lmrabet, owner and editor of the two weeklies, was jailed on May 21 after a court in Rabat found him guilty of “insulting the king” and “challenging the territorial integrity of the state.” His conviction stems from articles and cartoons published in his 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.

CPJ has repeatedly called for the journalist’s release, and CPJ representatives raised their concerns with Morocco’s ambassador to the United States, Aziz Mekouar in a meeting last week. [See JUNE 12 press release]

In addition to Lmrabet, 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. No charges have been filed against Alaoui, who suffers from diabetes and is also reportedly in poor health in Sale prison near Rabat.

“These actions seriously damage Morocco’s reputation as a country that has shown greater tolerance than its neighbors, and greater respect for basic press freedoms,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We once again call for the immediate release of Ali Lmrabet and Mustafa Alaoui, both of whom are in poor health.”