Morocco jails journalist over coverage of protests

New York, July 8, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Moroccan authorities to drop the charges against Mahmoud Lhaisan, a TV journalist who was arrested on Friday after reporting on police abuse during protests following a World Cup game.

Mahmoud Lhaisan is a reporter for Rasd TV, which is affiliated with the Sahrawi people in the Western Sahara region. Rasd TV broadcasts from Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and is owned by the Polisario Front, a national liberation movement composed of native Sahrawis and supported by neighboring Algeria.

Lhaisan was arrested outside his home after reporting on police abuse amid the forced dispersal of Sahrawi demonstrators on June 30, following Algeria’s performance in the World Cup, according to Rasd, local news sources, and his family. Multiple demonstrators were beaten and arrested during the protests in the Western Sahara city of Laayoune, and several police officers were injured, news reports and human rights groups said.

Lhaisan was charged with protesting illegally, obstructing traffic, and attacking police officers, according to news reports. He was taken to Lekhal prison and is scheduled to appear in court on July 21.

Lhaisan’s family said the journalist had been arrested in retaliation for his criticism of police abuse during the demonstrations, according to media reports posted on YouTube. They said that after the journalist was arrested, police surrounded their house to discourage his colleagues from expressing solidarity with him.

“Journalists should never be subject to retaliation for coverage of sensitive topics,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on Moroccan authorities to drop the charges against Mahmoud Lhaisan and release him immediately.”

Coverage of the Western Sahara is one of the most sensitive issues in Morocco, according to CPJ research. The Moroccan government prevented coverage of Sahrawi protests since 2004 and expelled foreign journalists from the area in 2010 when the city erupted in anti-government protests.

Editor’s note: The second paragraph has been amended to clarify the nature of the Polisario Front.