New York, July 27, 2017--Moroccan authorities should lift any restriction on the ability of journalists José Luis Navazo and Fernando Sanz to enter the country and should allow journalists to report freely on matters of public interest, including protests, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Three plainclothes officers from the General Directorate of National Security (DGSN) arrested Navazo and Sanz, the director of the Spanish-language news website El Correo Diplomatico and a reporter for the site, respectively, from Navazo's home in the northern Moroccan city of Tetouan, Sanz told CPJ today. The officers did not explain to the journalists why they were arresting them, and did not allow them to bring any personal belongings with them, Sanz said. Police held the journalists in Tetouan's police headquarters for roughly an hour before escorting them to the Tarajal crossing in Ceuta (Sebta) and deporting them, without any interrogation or explanation, Sanz told CPJ. Ceuta is a Spanish enclave on the Moroccan side of the Strait of Gibraltar.
Northern Morocco has been the site of protests since October 2016, when a fishmonger was crushed to death inside a garbage truck while trying to retrieve fish police had confiscated from him, according to news reports. Sanz--who lives in Madrid--told CPJ he had entered Morocco in June to report on the protests.
"Moroccan authorities are trying to prevent news about protests in the northern Rif region from reaching international audiences," CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington, D.C. "We call on Moroccan authorities to lift any restriction on Navazo and Sanz' ability to enter the country, and to allow journalists to report freely, including from Rif."
Government spokesperson Moustapha Khalfi and the DGSN did not immediately respond to CPJ's requests for comment, and Sanz said Moroccan Minister of Communication Mohamed Laaraj had not yet replied to an open letter that the two journalists had sent requesting information on the reason for their deportation.
Laaraj told the news website Morocco World News that the two men had entered the country as tourists, and that they had sought to "shoot images and take statements from people in Tetouan, but they did not possess shooting permits."
"Had they asked for a shooting permit, the Ministry of Communications could have granted them permission," Laaraj told the webiste.
Navazo, who is married to a Moroccan citizen, has lived in the country for 17 years and has previously interviewed both Prime Minister Saad al-Din al-Othmani and the opposition activist Nasser al-Zefzafi, who is now on trial on charges including "undermin[ing] the internal security" of Morocco, Sanz said. The journalists do not know if there are any restrictions to their ability to travel to Morocco, Sanz said.
Moroccan authorities last month deported Djamel Alilat, a reporter for the daily Algerian newspaper Al-Watan, after he covered protests in Al-Nador, also in the Rif region, according to media reports. On July 25, a Moroccan court sentenced Hamid al-Mahdaoui, editor of the news website Badil, to three months in prison and a fine of 20,000 Moroccan dirhams (roughly U.S.$2000) for "breaking the law through speeches and shouting in public spaces" during a protest in the city of al-Hoceima, according to news reports. Al-Mahdaoui, who denies the charges, said he did not give any speeches, and was arrested on his way to cover the protest, according to the reports.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This text has been corrected to reflect that Sanz lives in Madrid and entered Morocco in June.