CPJ calls on Moroccan king to probe government-organized protests against magazine
March 17, 2006 12:00 PM ET
March 17, 2006
His Majesty King Muhammad VI
The Royal Palace Rabat
The Kingdom of Morocco
By facsimile: 011-212-37 76 85 15
The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by evidence that Moroccan authorities played a role in organizing demonstrations against the magazine Le Journal Hebdomadaire for publishing a photograph of a French newspaper showing some of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. These state-orchestrated protests placed the lives of the entire staff of the Casablanca-based weekly at risk, yet the government has failed to launch a credible investigation or call those responsible to account.
Le Journal suffered this harassment after the February 11 publication of an Agence France-Presse photograph showing a reader holding the edition of the Paris daily France Soir which reproduced the cartoons. The drawings were barely visible but to avoid controversy Le Journal inked out the cartoon. Le Journal published the photograph as part of a 10-page chronology of events that followed the publication of the drawings in the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten. Le Journal publisher Aboubakr Jamai told CPJ that on February 15, police set up an area for protesters outside Le Journal's offices. Le Journal reported that several minibuses with "J" license plates, which signify they belong to the Casablanca city government, brought about a hundred people to demonstrate. Reporters and photographers at the scene witnessed people they identified as municipal employees giving the crowd placards and Moroccan flags. Photographs of the vehicles and municipal employees were taken by Le Journal and several other independent publications, including the Arabic-language dailies Ahdath Al-Maghribiya and As-Sabah. Le Journal accused the Interior Ministry, which oversees the Casablanca local government, of organizing the protests.
Municipal employees used loudspeakers to shout slogans against the publications, according to the witnesses. Several people in the crowd told journalists that they were brought by the municipal authorities. One woman told Le Journal reporters that she had come because she had been informed that the municipality would reward her but she had no idea what the protest was about.
The following day, demonstrators appeared in front of the premises of the magazine's printer in Casablanca. They were again organized by local authorities and brought to the printer in municipal vehicles, according to Le Journal's published report. The magazine identified several civil servants openly participating in the demonstrations. Protesters interviewed by the magazine and other newspapers said that they had been brought there by the ministry of interior.
State-run television stations 2M and TVM broadcast footage of hundreds of demonstrators shouting slogans against the magazine on both occasions. 2M accused the magazine of "running against public opinion by taking up positions against the sacred values of our country."
Nabil Benabdellah, Minister of Communication, denied the government played any part in the demonstrations against Le Journal. But we believe that the evidence suggests otherwise.
Over the years Le Journal Hebdomadaire and its sister publication, Assahifa al-Ousbouiya, have been harassed by the government for their reporting on corruption, corporate impropriety, and sensitive political matters. In 2000, Moroccan authorities banned editions of both publications when Le Journal Hebdomadaire published an interview with Muhammad Abdelaziz, leader of the Polisario Front rebel movement, which has been fighting Morocco for the independence of Western Sahara since the 1970s. Recently a Moroccan court awarded record damages against the magazine in a libel suit that could put it of business.
We are alarmed by the government's failure to explain why municipal vehicles were used to bring protesters to the magazine and why municipal employees and other civil servants organized the demonstrations. We are concerned that the government has used popular indignation at the publication in Europe of these cartoons as a pretext to harass these publications because of their critical reporting.
As an independent organization of journalists dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ calls on Your Majesty to demonstrate your commitment to the ideals of a free press and immediately launch a full and open investigation into this apparent state attack on an independent magazine. The failure to hold those responsible to account would suggest your government's tolerance of threats and intimidation against the media.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your reply.