New York, June 20, 2017--Moroccan authorities should cease harassing Hamid al-Mahdaoui, the editor of the news website Badil, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Moroccan Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit has filed a criminal defamation complaint against al-Mahdaoui, and the editor says he was questioned for six hours last week regarding a video the website published.
Laftit's lawyer, Mohamed Karrout, yesterday told reporters that the minister filed the complaint in response to a May 22 article alleging corruption, published while the minister was visiting northern Morocco's Rif region, the epicenter of protests since fishmonger Mohsen Fikri was crushed to death in a garbage truck trying to recover fish the police had confiscated from him in October 2016.
On June 14, police delivered a summons to al-Mahdaoui's home calling him for questioning, without indicating the subject of the interrogation, he wrote on Facebook. Two days later, the editor was questioned for six hours about videos he released after anti-corruption activist Nasser al-Zafzefi interrupted a Friday sermon in a mosque in the northern city of al-Hoceima, al-Mahdaoui said in a video statement. In the videos, al-Mahdaoui criticized the preacher for referring to the protests as "sedition" and criticized Moroccan officials for the crackdown against the protests.
"Defamation should never be a criminal matter, and no one should be interrogated for six hours for expressing an opinion," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Geneva, Switzerland. "We call on Moroccan authorities to cease harassing Hamid al-Mahdaoui, and to ensure he is able to do his job without interference."
Al-Mahdaoui says he has faced escalating difficulties for his coverage of the protests. On May 23, he said in a video published to YouTube that unknown individuals tried to hack Badil's database. In a June 4 video, the editor said people had threatened to kill him for the website's coverage of protests in the Rif region.
In August 2015, a court fined the journalist and ordered the website to cease publishing for three months after al-Mahdaoui was convicted of criminal defamation, CPJ reported at the time.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This text has been updated to correct that Mohamed Karrout is Moroccan Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit's lawyer.