The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply disturbed that the Ministry of Justice suspended two Arabic-language weeklies. According to press reports and local journalists, intelligence agents notified the editors of the Oujda-based weeklies Al-Sharq and Al-Hayat Al-Maghribiya on January 18 that they were to cease publication of their weeklies immediately for three months on order of the ministry.
The order stemmed from an August 2003 court ruling suspending both papers for three months after Al-Hayat al-Maghribiya published an article in its May 5May 20 issue that discussed the history of the Islamist movement in Morocco and its alleged relationship with the country’s intelligence services. Al-Sharq reprinted the article in its June 5 edition.
In addition, the court convicted editors Mohammed al-Herd and Abdel Majid Ben Taher, of Al-Sharq, and Mustapha Qashnini, of Al-Hayat al-Maghribiya, of “extolling the actions that comprise terrorism.” Al-Herd was sentenced to three years in prison, and Ben Taher and Qashnini were sentenced to one year each.
In January 2004, King Mohammed VI pardoned all three journalists, along with editor Ali Lmrabet, of the satirical weeklies Demain and Douman. Lmrabet’s publications were banned and he was imprisoned in May 2003 for “insulting the king” and “challenging the territorial integrity of the state.” After the pardon, Lmrabet left Morocco and his two weeklies never resumed publication.
According to local sources, the January 18, 2005, suspension of Al-Hayat al-Maghribiya was prompted when Lmrabet, who recently returned to Morocco, attempted to apply for a new license to publish again. Lmrabet told CPJ that authorities have refused to let him apply for a license.
Agence France-Presse reported yesterday that state prosecutors claimed that the king’s pardon did not cover all four newspapers’ suspensions. As a result, officials not only denied Lmrabet his license but revived the suspension order against Al-Hayat al-Maghribiya and Al-Sharq. The revival of the suspensions of Al-Sharq and Al-Hayat Al Maghribiya more than a year after the king issued pardons is a troubling step backward for press freedom in Morocco.
Your Excellency, we urge you to lift the suspension orders against the publications so they can resume publication immediately. We also call on you to do everything in your power to ensure that Ali Lmrabet is able to resume publishing.
We look forward to your attention to these important matters.