APRIL 12, 2005
Posted: April 13, 2005

Ali Lmrabet, Demain Libere

The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemned a Moroccan court’s decision to ban independent journalist and former newspaper owner Ali Lmrabet from practicing journalism for ten years. The sentence came just ten days before Lmrabet was expected to receive a license to publish a satirical weekly, Demain Libere.

From Madrid, Lmrabet told CPJ that the Court of First Instance in Rabat had found him guilty of defaming a pro-government group known as the Association of Relatives of Saharawi Victims of Repression and ordered him to pay 50,000 dirhams ($5825) in damages.

The charges against him stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the Association of Relatives of Saharawi Victims of Repression in response to an article that Lmrabet had published in the Spanish daily El Mundo in November 2004. In the article, Lmrabet referred to the Saharawi people in the Algerian city of Tindouf as refugees, contradicting the Moroccan government’s position that they were prisoners of the Polisario Front—a rebel movement fighting for the independence of the Western Sahara.

Neither the Association of Relatives of Saharawi Victims of Repression nor its spokesman Ahmed Khier were mentioned in Lmbaret’s El Mundo article. No local journalists that CPJ contacted had ever heard of the association or Khier prior to January, when Lmrabet had first attempted to get a license to launch his successor weekly, Demain Libere. Local journalists told the CPJ that the organization might have been created or revived in response to Lmrabet’s attempt to begin publishing.

Kheir was repeatedly interviewed on television and pro-government newspapers, which were ceaseless in their attacks on Lmrabet.

Throughout his career, Lmrabet had been harassed repeatedly for his criticisms of the Moroccan government. In May 2003, he was jailed and found guilty of “insulting the king” and “challenging the territorial integrity of the state” when his two weeklies, the now shuttered French-language Demain and the Arabic Douman, published articles and cartoons that lampooned the monarchy, as well as an interview with Abdullah Zaaza, an opponent of Morocco’s king who called for the self-determination of the people of the Western Sahara. Lmrabet served nearly nine months of his three years prison sentence but was released in January 2004 by a royal pardon.

The court decision came one month after Morocco’s minister of communication had announced the upcoming reform of Morocco’s press law—including the removal of penalties that imprisoned journalists