Morocco: Two journalists detained

New York, July 18, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply troubled by the detention of two Moroccan journalists who are being held for publishing secret government documents.

Abderrahim Ariri, publisher of the Moroccan weekly Al-Watan Al An, and Mostafa Hormatallah, a journalist for the paper, were summoned for questioning by police in Casablanca yesterday morning, the paper said in a statement, a copy of which was obtained by CPJ.

Citing a statement from the Casablanca state prosecutor, the state news agency MAP reported that the journalists are being investigated for revealing national defense secrets. On July 14, Al-Watan Al An reproduced one of the purported secret documents of the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance, a Moroccan security agency, that discussed the monitoring of jihadist Web sites. The document cited an online video in which militants threatened to wage jihad against Morocco and other North African states. It said the video contained pictures showing jihadists imprisoned in Morocco, followed by images of President George Bush talking to the rulers of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. Although the video focuses heavily on King Mohammed VI’s meeting with Bush, Al-Watan Al An deleted the king’s name from the directorate’s document.

The whereabouts of Ariri and Hormatallah are unknown and the charges they face are unclear, said Jalal Taher, a lawyer representing the two men. “Until now we are in the dark, as far as the conditions surrounding the investigation and the precise accusation which led to the arrest of Ariri and Hormatallah,” Taher told CPJ. Moroccan law permits police to hold suspects for 48 hours and the state prosecutor can renew the detention.

Al-Watan Al An frequently has published stories critical of the Moroccan authorities. In March, it ran a story that criticized the king and palace officials for failing to cooperate with the Moroccan press and to communicate to the public.

Staff at Al-Watan Al An told CPJ that at around the time of the journalists’ detention about 20 plainclothes security agents raided the newspaper’s Casablanca office and confiscated part of Al-Watan Al An’s archives and Ariri’s personal computer.

 “We are alarmed by the detention of our colleagues and the raid on their offices,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “These two journalists were reporting a story of obvious public interest and there can be no justification for depriving them of their liberty.”

In a special report released earlier this month, CPJ noted that press freedoms in Morocco have notably regressed in recent years. Independent journalists have been the targets of a series of politicized court cases, financial pressures, and harassment from authorities.