King pardons jailed journalists

New York, January 7, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes the release today of jailed Moroccan journalists Ali Lmrabet, owner and editor of the weeklies Demain and Douman, and Mohammed al-Herd, editor of the Oujda-based weekly Al-Sharq.

Both were pardoned today by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI after spending more than seven months behind bars.

“We welcome this pardon and are relieved to see our colleagues free again,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “But, their release does not erase the fact that they were unjustly deprived of their liberty for more than seven months. If Morocco is to be recognized as nation that tolerates press freedom, it must prevent these kinds of abuses in the future.”

Lmrabet was convicted and jailed on May 21, when a court found him guilty of “insulting the king,” “undermining the monarchy,” and “challenging the territorial integrity of the state.” He was sentenced to four years (later reduced on appeal to three years) in prison and fined 20,000 Moroccan dirhams (US$2,000). Lmrabet angered officials when he published a series of articles and cartoons that tackled two of the most politically sensitive issues in Morocco: the monarchy and the country’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara.

Al-Herd was arrested on June 10, with two other journalists—editor Abdel Majid Ben Taher, also of Al-Sharq, and Mustapha Qashnini, the editor of another Oujda-based weekly Al-Hayat Al-Maghribiya. All three were charged with extolling terrorist acts. The charges stemmed from an article—published in Al-Hayat Al-Maghribiya by a Moroccan Islamist and reprinted in Al-Sharq—discussing the history of the Islamist movement in Morocco and its alleged relationship with the country’s intelligence services. In August, al-Herd was sentenced to three years in prison. Ben Taher and Qashnini, who were free pending appeal, were each sentenced to a year in prison.

Ben Taher, Qashnini, and three other journalists who had received suspended sentences were also pardoned today by King Mohammed as part of a larger amnesty for several dozen prisoners.