Three journalists sentenced to prison

New York, August 5, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns yesterday’s decision by a Rabat court sentencing three journalists to prison for violating Morocco’s new anti-terrorism law.

Editors Mohammed al-Herd and Abdel Majid Ben Taher, of the weekly newspaper Al-Sharq, and Mustapha Qashnini, editor of the weekly Al-Hayat al-Maghribiya, were found guilty of “extolling the actions that comprise terrorism,” according to their lawyer Mohammed Ziyyan.

Ziyyan told CPJ that al-Herd was sentenced to three years in prison, while Ben Taher and Qashnini, who were released last month pending trial, were each sentenced to a year in prison. Ben Taher and Qashnini are still free pending appeal, while al-Herd began serving his sentence last night. The court also suspended both weeklies from publication for three months.

The charges against the journalists 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. The article, which criticized the Moroccan intelligence services for doing the “dirty work” of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, was written before the suicide attacks in Casablanca on May 16 that claimed 44 lives. The Moroccan government blames the Islamist group Salafiyya Jihadia for the crime, and Boughrara is a member of the group.

Ziyyan said that Boughrara and his brother Youssef were tried with the journalists and sentenced to 10 and five years, respectively, after being found guilty of accepting funds from overseas to finance terrorist actions in Morocco. Ziyyan, who is filing an appeal, said that he tried unsuccessfully to have the journalists tried separately from the Boughrara brothers.

In addition to these latest prison sentences, Ali Lmrabet, the owner and editor of two weeklies (the French-language Demain and its Arabic-language sister publication, Douman) has been serving a three-year sentence since May. Lmrabet was found guilty of “insulting the king,” “undermining the monarchy,” and “challenging the territorial integrity of the state” because of articles and cartoons published in his magazines.