Group sues journalist on behalf of Moroccan royals

New York, June 15, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by defamation charges filed against a Moroccan editor by a group that represents close relatives of King Mohammed VI. A Casablanca court has summoned the editor to appear on Tuesday.

The charges against Driss Chahtan, managing editor of the independent weekly Al-Michaal, stem from a front-page story titled “The Scandals of the King’s Aunts,” published on November 27, 2008. The same issue ran a critical interview with Mostafa Adari, head of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights chapter in Khenifra, about 90 miles (150 kilometers) south of Rabat.

Adari was also summoned to answer defamation charges before a minor court in Casablanca on Tuesday. Adari was quoted as saying that the administration and the judiciary “are powerless” and unable to abolish the impunity enjoyed by some of the king’s relatives. He told Al-Michaal that the husband of Amina Amahzoun, one of the king’s aunts, was the head of a “criminal gang,” and that another of aunt, named Hafsa, “enjoys more power than high-ranking officials.”

The complaint was filed by a group calling itself the “Association of the Amahzoun Mouha Ou Hammou Family” established in mid-January. The group is asking for 1 million Moroccan dirhams (US$124,175) in damages and a 10-year ban prohibiting Chahtan from working as a journalist, Ben Hamani Said, Al-Michaal‘s lawyer, told CPJ.

“This is not the first time Driss Chahtan has been taken to court for doing his job,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program coordinator. “We call on the court to drop this politically motivated case It’s high time for the Kingdom of Morocco to abide by international standards for freedom of expression and stop using the judiciary to settle scores with critical journalists.”

Article 42 of the Press Law stipulates that spreading false information and defamation could result in up to one year in prison and a fine of 100,000 dirhams (US$12,418). “I hope that the court will reject this complaint because, under the law, defamation is a personal matter and such a group is not qualified to file this case,” Said added.

Journalists and human rights and political activists met on Thursday in Casablanca to set up a committee of solidarity with the managing editor of Al-Michaal and the head of the Khenifra chapter of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, journalists told CPJ. They strongly denounced what they called abuses perpetrated by the Amahzoun Family in Khenifra.