Blogger sentenced to two years in prison

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original version of this alert has been modified to correct the age of the blogger.

New York, September 10, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a Moroccan court’s decision to jail and fine blogger and journalist Mohamed Erraji for “failing to respect the king.”

The court in Agadir, in southwest Morocco, convicted Erraji on Monday in a closed trial and sentenced him to two years imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 dinars (US$626), according to his family and local news reports. Erraji, 29, is a contributor to HesPress, a Moroccan daily news Web site.

The trial lasted for about 10 minutes, and Erraji did not have a defense lawyer, HesPress reported. His family said they are looking for a lawyer and plan to appeal to the court’s decision.

“This is another unfortunate milestone in the decline of press freedom in Morocco, which once had a reputation for an independent press,” CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney said. “Mohamed Erraji was convicted after a 10-minute, closed-door hearing without a defense attorney. This is a farce. We call for this conviction to be overturned.”

On September 3, Erraji published an article on HesPress criticizing King Mohammed VI for rewarding people who praise him. In the article, Erraji wrote: “We need to admit that what has destroyed our country and made it plummet to this embarrassing level in all international rankings, is this economy of dispersing gratuities, which benefits the lucky sons and daughters of this country and overlooks the rest.”

Erraji was interrogated by security police in Agadir for seven hours on September 4, a member of his family told CPJ. He was allowed to go home after the interrogation but was asked to return to the office the following day. When he went back on September 5, he was arrested.

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. The country’s restrictive press code criminalizes offending the king, “defaming” the monarchy, insulting Islam or state institutions, and offending Morocco’s “territorial integrity.”