Journalist goes on hunger strike in Morocco jail

New York, May 2, 2008–To mark World Press Freedom Day, Moroccan journalist Mustafa Hormatallah began a three-day hunger strike today to protest his imprisonment in Casablanca, while journalists led by the National Syndicate of the Moroccan Press planned to stage a sit-in on Saturday.

Hormatallah, a journalist with the independent weekly Al-Watan Al An, was sentenced in August 2007 to eight months in jail, and his editor, Abderrahim Ariri, was given a six-month suspended term for possessing “documents by criminal means.” The Casablanca court also fined each of them 1,000 dirhams (US$120). The Supreme Court upheld Hormatallah’s sentence in February.

“We join with our colleagues in Morocco in calling attention to the fact that a leading journalist is languishing in prison on World Press Freedom Day,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on the authorities to release Mustafa Hormatallah immediately.” World Press Freedom Day is commemorated on Saturday.

The case against Ariri and Hormatallah stems from a July 14 article in Al-Watan Al An about secret government documents that reveal alleged terrorist threats against Morocco. The weekly reproduced one of the purported secret documents of the General Directorate for Territorial Surveillance, a Moroccan security agency, which discussed the monitoring of jihadist Web sites. The two journalists were convicted of “concealing items derived from a crime” under Article 571 of the Moroccan Penal Code.

Moroccan journalists in Casablanca, led by the National Syndicate of the Moroccan Press, will hold a sit-in on Saturday to protest Hormatallah’s continued detention, syndicate head Younes Mjahed told CPJ. Mjahed called for Hormatallah’s release, saying that “turning this saddening page would greatly serve the cause of freedom of expression in our country.”

In a special report released in July 2007, CPJ noted that press freedom in Morocco has notably regressed in recent years. Independent journalists have been the targets of a series of politicized court cases, financial pressures, and harassment from authorities.