New York, June 17, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns yesterday’s expulsion from Morocco of Tor Dagfinn Dommersnes and Fredrik Refvem, a reporter and photographer, respectively, with the Norwegian daily Stavanger Aftenbladet.
Dommersnes told CPJ that four plainclothes Moroccan security officers woke Refvem and him up in their hotel rooms in Rabat early yesterday morning and told them they had to leave the country immediately. One of the agents told Dommersnes that he had broken the law and was persona non grata in Morocco. The agents never specified an offense, but Dommersnes said an agent mentioned that the journalists had been reporting on the disputed Western Sahara, controlled by Morocco.
Dommersnes said the officers took Refvem and him to the central security police station in Rabat. No one questioned them, and Moroccan authorities never searched or confiscated any of their belongings. Dommersnes was allowed to call his editor from the hotel to report what had happened, and he was also able to call the Norwegian ambassador in Morocco, who attempted to intervene on the journalists’ behalf.
Dommersnes said two officers then escorted Refvem and him onto the train from Rabat to Casablanca. The officers processed the journalists through passport control and customs and then put them on an airplane to Paris.
Agence France-Presse, citing Moroccan communication ministry officials, reported that the two journalists were expelled for meeting with Ali Salem Tamek, a Western Sahara activist who has campaigned for a referendum on self-rule to be held in the territory. Dommersnes said he never interviewed Tamek, but he did call another Western Saharan activist from the hotel the previous evening to set up an interview with him.
A government spokesman cited by The Associated Press, who spoke condition of anonymity, said, “The two journalists concerned got themselves accredited for a story of a touristic nature, when in fact this story had political characteristics.”
Dommersnes said that he and Revfem were accredited and that they were not told that their accreditation had any particular limitations.
Both journalists are now back in Norway.
Independent coverage on the Western Sahara, which Morocco annexed in 1975, remains a sensitive issue. Over the years, Moroccan authorities have prosecuted and harassed local reporters and expelled foreign correspondents who have written critically on the topic.