Court of appeal overturns blogger’s sentence

New York, September 18, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes a Moroccan court decision today that overturns a two-year prison sentence and a fine against blogger and journalist Mohamed Erraji.

On September 9, the court in Agadir, in southwest Morocco, convicted Erraji in a 10-minute trial¸ sentencing him to prison 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.

Erraji was convicted of “failing to respect the king,” after he published an article on HesPress criticizing King Mohammed VI’s social policy to reward people who praise him.

“We are encouraged by this enlightened decision, which improves the legal environment for journalists,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We now encourage Morocco to do away with laws that restrict free and open debate.”

On Monday, CPJ sent a letter to King Mohammed VI, urging him to ensure that the court of appeal will overturn the sentence. 

“I am very happy with today’s court ruling, which came after a summary and unfair ruling,” Erraji told CPJ. “But at the same time, my happiness is mixed with feelings of sadness, because it never occurred to me that one day I would be arbitrarily accused of showing disrespect toward the king, which is a grave accusation.”

In a special report released in July 2007, CPJ found that in the past number of years, press freedom in Morocco has markedly regressed. Politicized court cases, financial pressures, and harassment from authorities are all tactics used by authorities to silence independent journalists. A restrictive press code criminalizes offending the king, “defaming” the monarchy, insulting Islam or state institutions, and offending Morocco’s “territorial integrity.”