Morocco suspends Al-Jazeera operations indefinitely

New York, November 1, 2010–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Moroccan authorities’ decision to indefinitely suspend Al-Jazeera’s reporting in Morocco. The government withdrew accreditations from Al-Jazeera staff. CPJ calls on the Ministry of Communications to rescind its decision.

On Friday, the Ministry of Communications accused Al-Jazeera of not following “the rules of responsible and serious journalistic work.” According to a statement, published by the official Moroccan News Agency, the ministry conducted “a comprehensive assessment” of Al-Jazeera’s news reports and programs on Morocco and found that its coverage “seriously distorted Morocco’s image and manifestly damaged its interests, most notably its territorial integrity”–an allusion to Western Sahara, a territory in dispute between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front. The statement added that the station was determined to broadcast only a  negative image of the country in a deliberate effort to minimize “Morocco’s efforts in all aspects of development and reform projects and to deliberately belittle its achievements and progress on democracy and human rights.”

“We are alarmed by Morocco’s decision to censor newsgathering by this pan-Arab satellite news channel,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on the Moroccan Ministry of Communications to lift Al-Jazeera’s suspension and restore all accreditations.”

On Saturday, Al-Jazeera issued a statement reiterating its commitment to “an editorial policy based on the principal of providing alternate opinions,” adding that its “coverage of Moroccan issues has always been professional, balanced and accurate.”

Abdel Qader Kharroubi, Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in Rabat, told Agence France-Presse that the station “has always respected the rule of professionalism and neutrality, particularly in Morocco.” He told the Lebanese daily As-Safir that the decision to suspend the station’s operations does not mean the permanent closure of the office. “We will stay in touch with the Communications Ministry in an effort to rescind the decision. We will not leave Morocco but we will work with all our capabilities to resume coverage.”

London-based Elaph news website reported today that there are ongoing negotiations between Al-Jazeera and the Ministry of Communications to lift the suspension.

Earlier this year, two Al-Jazeera journalists, Mohammed al-Baqali and Anas ben Saleh, among other journalists, were not allowed to renew their accreditation despite having completed all the paper work, CPJ research shows.  The case of the two Al-Jazeera reporters is due to be heard next month in court. In 2008, Hassan Rachidi, Al-Jazeera’s Morocco bureau chief at the time, was convicted and fined for “disseminating false information” in connection to Al-Jazeera’s reporting on social unrest in the southern port city of Sidi Ifni in June of that year.