A conference on press freedom in Morocco held in Paris, France, was shut down on February 15, 2019, when the power was cut to the event after hecklers yelled at speakers and threw stink bombs, according to news reports, videos posted to social media, and witnesses who spoke with CPJ.
The Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Morocco, a Moroccan human rights group, held the conference at the Maltais Rouge, a left-wing space for political books and events in Paris, moderated by the association’s president, Said Fawzi, and secretary general, Fatiha Aarour, according to news reports.
During the event’s opening remarks, a group of approximately 15 men began shouting to interrupt the speeches, Moroccan press freedom advocate Hicham Mansouri, who was a panelist at the event, told CPJ.
A Facebook Live video of the event published by Aarour showed members of the audience standing up from their seats and yelling at the speakers during the opening remarks, according to a CPJ review of the video. When Khadija Ryadi, one of the panelists and the former president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, likened the Moroccan government to a dictatorship, one man walked up to the speakers’ table and turned to the audience shouting, “We are not dictators! […] She is talking nonsense!” according to CPJ’s review of the video. Mansouri told CPJ that the other panelists were unable to give their talks after Ryadi’s speech was interrupted.
In a video of the event by independent journalist Abdessamad Ait Aicha, a man is seen attempting to assault an attendee with a chair. Mansouri told CPJ the man who brandished the chair was one of the hecklers who had interrupted the conference.
About half an hour after the event began, the room’s electricity was cut off, leading attendees to start evacuating the premises, according to Mansouri, news reports, and Aarour’s Facebook Live broadcast. Mansouri told CPJ that the hecklers released stink bombs after the power outage, which further encouraged the audience to exit, and some hecklers took advantage of the darkness to approach the speakers’ table to utter insults and death threats.
The Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Morocco filed a complaint with the French authorities approximately a week after the incident, Aarour told CPJ.
The police station of Paris’ 11th Arrondissement, where the Maltais Rouge is located, confirmed to CPJ via email that officers were aware of the event and had responded to calls made on February 15, but had no further information regarding the cause of the disturbance.
The Moroccan embassy in France did not return CPJ’s emailed request for comment. CPJ reached out to Fawzi on social media and did not receive a response.