Moroccan politician alleges government behind cartoon protest

New York, June 6, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Moroccan authorities to investigate disturbing allegations that former high-ranking Interior Minister official Fouad Ali El Himma was the instigator of a demonstration in 2006 in Casablanca against an independent weekly for reporting on controversial Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed.

Mustapha Ramid, a leading member of parliament and the opposition Justice and Development Party, told the independent weekly Le Journal Hebdomadaire on May 24 and the independent daily Al Massae on June 4 that El Himma had contacted two members of the general secretariat of the party, urging them to demonstrate against the paper. El Himma has not commented publicly on the accusations.

On February 11, 2006, Le Journal Hebdomadaire reported on the controversial cartoons and ran an Agence France-Presse photograph showing a reader holding a Paris daily that had reproduced the drawings. The newspaper also took the precaution of inking out the minute image to avoid controversy.

Even with the precautions, journalists say Casablanca authorities staged a demonstration in front of Le Journal Hebdomadaire’s offices. Independent newspapers identified civil servants who arrived in government vehicles to take part in the demonstration. Many told reporters that they were instructed by the ministry of the interior to do so.

“We are alarmed by this allegation that a government official instigated the demonstration against Le Journal Hebdomadaire,” said CPJ Middle East Senior Program Coordinator Joel Campagna. “The Moroccan authorities should immediately carry out a thorough investigation into these allegations and ensure that any government official who incited demonstrations against this newspaper is held to account. Failure to do so would suggest the government condones such acts of intimidation against the media.”

CPJ’s repeated requests for comment to Moroccan authorities remain unanswered. Former Communication Minister Nabil Benabdallah told a CPJ delegation in 2007 that state television made a mistake in its coverage of Le Journal Hebdomadaire. The station, 2M, accused the magazine of “running against public opinion by taking up positions against the sacred values of our country.”

El Himma was a long-time close aide to King Mohammed VI and is currently an influential member of parliament.