New York, February 14, 2018--Moroccan authorities should drop all charges against Akhbar al-Youm columnist and publisher Taoufik Bouachrine on appeal, and allow him to work without fear of reprisal, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
A Casablanca court on February 12 convicted Bouachrine of criminal defamation in a lawsuit filed by two government ministers and ordered him to pay a fine of 45 million Moroccan centimes (US$49,000), according to news reports and a Facebook post from the journalist's account.
In an October 2015 column, Bouachrine wrote that the Moroccan businessman and Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Aziz Akhannouch and the Economy and Finance Minister Mohamed Boussaid "tricked" then-Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane into approving a law that would transfer the financial authority over a federal development fund from the prime minister to the agriculture and fisheries minister. In response, Akhannouch and Boussaid sued for defamation, according to news reports and the Facebook post from the journalist's account.
"Journalists should never face criminal charges for doing their job," CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington D.C. "Moroccan authorities should drop all charges against Taoufik Bouachrine, not contest his appeal, and abolish laws that allow for public officials to file criminal charges against critical journalists."
Government spokesperson Mustapha Khalfi did not immediately respond to CPJ's email requesting comment.
"I am a journalist. I publish true and accurate news regardless of who would benefit or not benefit from them, because people have the right to know what happens in their government," Bouachrine wrote in a column, quoting his own response to the accusations in front of the judge.
Bouachrine is not the first journalist who was convicted in lawsuits filed by Moroccan officials. In 2017, Akhannouch filed a criminal defamation lawsuit against independent news website Badil Editor-in-Chief Hamid al-Mahdaoui and the site's reporter, Hicham al-Omrani, in response to an interview they conducted with a political analyst who criticized Akhannouch, according to news reports. Akhannouch later dropped the charges on appeal, the reports stated. In another case, a Moroccan court ordered the privately owned website Goud in 2015 to pay 500,000 Moroccan dirhams to the king's private secretary, Mounir el-Majidi, for accusing him of corruption in an article, CPJ documented at the time.