New York, June 20, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is extremely alarmed about the detention of three Moroccan journalists, bringing the total number of journalists currently in custody there to five.
Journalists Mohamed Al Herd and Abdel Majid Taher, editors at the local weekly newspaper Al-Sharq, and Mustapha Qashnini, editor of the local weekly Al-Hayat Al-Maghribiya, have been in detention since June 12, according to one of their lawyers, Mohamed Ziyyan. Both newspapers are published and distributed in Oujda, a city in northwestern Morocco along the Algerian border.
The journalists, who have been detained for questioning under Morocco’s new anti-terrorism law, were charged with “extolling the actions that comprise terrorist crimes,” said Ziyyan in a phone interview with CPJ. If convicted, the journalists face up to six years in prison.
Ziyyan said that the charges stem from an article by an Islamic activist named Zakariya Boughrara that appeared in the May 5-May 20 issue of Al-Hayat Al-Maghribiya and was reprinted on June 5 in Al-Sharq. In the article, Boughrara discussed the history of the Islamist movement in Morocco and its relationship with the country’s intelligence services. According to sources in Morocco, Boughrara has not been arrested.
In addition to Al Herd, Taher, and Qashnini, Ali Lmrabet, of the French-language weekly Demain and its Arabic sister publication Douman, and Mustafa Alaoui, of the weekly Al-Ousboua, have been arrested. Lmrabet was sentenced to four years in prison (later reduced to three) and fined 20,000 dirhams (US$2,000) on May 21 for “insulting the king” and “challenging the territorial integrity of the state” in a series of articles and cartoons in his publications, which authorities also closed. Alaoui was detained on June 5 under Morocco’s anti-terrorism law for publishing a communiqué issued by an Islamist group that claimed responsibility for some of the multiple suicide bombings in Casablanca on May 16. [See JUNE 12 press release]
“Morocco up to now has had a better press freedom record than its neighbors. Now, using the excuse of fighting terrorism, it is detaining more journalists than any other Arab country,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on the government to release the five currently in prison and to stop arresting journalists for doing their jobs.”