Taoufik Bouachrine in 2009 (AFP)
Taoufik Bouachrine in 2009 (AFP)

Amid wave of defamation cases, CPJ joins call for Morocco to drop charges against press

New York, November 13, 2015–CPJ has joined Free Press Unlimited and seven other organizations in a statement of support for seven Moroccan journalists and human rights defenders who will face trial on November 19, on charges ranging from defamation to harming national security. One of the journalists, Hicham Mansouri, is already behind bars on an adultery conviction in retaliation for his work.

Morocco has seen a wave of defamation cases against news websites in particular. Some cases have resulted in suspended jail sentences, heavy fines, and orders that outlets be closed.

The most recent case was brought this week by Faouzi Lakjaa, budget director at the Ministry of Finance, against Taoufik Bouachrine, publications director of the independent newspaper Akhbar al-Youm. Bouachrine told CPJ he faces a ban from journalism for a period of 10 years and a fine of up to 1 million Moroccan dirhams (around US$100,000) in damages.

The case refers to an article published in Akhbar el-Youm on October 22, in which Bouachrine wrote that Lakjaa, along with other officials, had “deceived” the prime minister regarding a piece of legislation. Lakjaa, who is also the head of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, claimed that the article harmed his reputation.

That these suits are brought by government officials is cause for particular alarm. International standards oppose criminal sentences for defamation offenses and hold that public officials should withstand a higher level of scrutiny because of the public interest in open debate about public figures and institutions.