New issue of French magazine banned in three nations

New York, November 4, 2008–CPJ is deeply concerned by the decisions of the Moroccan, Tunisian, and Algeriangovernments to ban the new issue of L’Express magazine carrying a series of articles about Islam and Christianity.

The cover of French magazine carried the headline “The Jesus-Muhammad Shock” with a depiction of the two religious figures. In its international edition, the magazine covered Muhammad’s face with a white veil out of respect for “religious sensitivity in the Maghreb” region, Managing Editor Christian Makarian told Agence France-Presse. Islam forbids depictions of the prophet.

The articles, which compared and explored elements of the two faiths, were timed to coincide with a planned meeting between Muslim and Christian scholars in Rome this week, the BBC reported. Both the stories and the illustration were cited by government officials in banning the issue.

“We deplore the ban on L’Express, which denies readers in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia access to information and opinion on an issue of great interest to the region,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “We call on all three governments to lift the ban immediately.”

Moroccan Information Minister Khalid Naciri said the magazine violated a provision of the press code that bans material deemed damaging to “Islam, the monarchy, or state unity,” according to news reports. ‎The goverment blocked distribution of the magazine on Sunday, according to news reports.

The Algerian Ministry of Information said the magazine was banned on Monday because it violated a provision in the press code that forbids international media from publishing ‎“illustrations or accounts … contrary to Islamic morality or national values,” The Associated Press reported. The Tunisian government also banned the magazine on Monday. AP quoted an unnamed official as saying the material was “offensive to Islam,” AP said.

The bans occur in countries where the press has been under rising pressure from authorities. On September 9, a Moroccan court convicted blogger and journalist Mohamed Erraji of “failing to respect the king,” after he wrote an article claiming that King Mohammed VI rewarded people who praised him. In the wake of international criticism, an appeals court overturned the conviction.

In Algeria, on October 26, a court in the northeastern region of Annaba sentenced Noureddine Boukraa to a thee-month suspended jail term and fined him 30,000 dinars (US$465) for “disclosing confidential information” in a November 2007 piece in the newspaper Al-Nahar, according to the journalist and news reports. Boukraa had reported that security officials were using their office for personal gain.

In Tunisia, the Interior Ministry seized the October 22 issue of Mouatinoun, the weekly newspaper of the Democratic Forum for Labor and Liberties party, for “publishing unlawful allegations” in an opinion piece.