Moroccan newspaper fined again for same story

New York, March 26, 2009–The Casablanca court of appeals in Morocco should overturn two suspended jail sentences and fines against an independent newspaper, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. 

On Monday, a court in Casablanca sentenced Managing Editor Ali Anouzla and Publishing Director Jamal Boudouma of the independent daily Al-Jarida al-Oula to two-month suspended jail terms each and a fine of 200,000 dirhams (US$24,190) for “defamation” and “insulting the judiciary,” according to local news reports. Anouzla said his lawyer will appeal the ruling as soon as he receives a copy of the decision.

The lawsuit, the second in less than three months in regard to the same article, was filed by Khalil Hachemi Idrissi, publishing director of the daily French-language newspaper Aujourd’hui Le Maroc in January. Idrissi filed a previous lawsuit against Anouzla in September 2008, after the newspaper reported on an incident in which Hassan al-Yaqoubi, the spouse of King Muhammad VI’s aunt had shot and injured a traffic policeman who had stopped him.

“We urge the court of appeals to overturn this unjust ruling,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayam, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “This fine and another that was issued in January smack of political score-settling and are likely to bring down the newspaper if upheld by the court of appeals.”

Idrissi wrote a piece in Aujourd’hui Le Maroc calling the newspapers that covered the incident unpatriotic and said they lacked journalistic ethics. Al-Jarida al-Oula was the only newspaper that wrote about the incident at the time, Anouzla told CPJ.

Boudouma wrote a satirical article and criticized Idrissi’s stance on the issue, Anouzla said, which led Idrissi to sue Al-Jarida al-Oula for defamation in September 2008. In January, a court fined the newspaper 160,000 dirhams (US$19,340) in a trial that was not attended by anyone from the newspaper. According to Anouzla, Al-Jarida al-Oula was never given notice as to when to appear in court. After the initial verdict, the paper reprinted the article in question and ran an editorial on the ruling that described the trial as “secret.”

Idrissi filed the second lawsuit for defamation because the paper had reprinted the article and for “insulting the judiciary.” The ruling was issued without the publisher’s knowledge, Anouzla told CPJ.