Awards 2003 – Jamai

International Press Freedom Awards

Aboubakr Jamai is publisher of Morocco’s groundbreaking weekly newspaper Le Journal Hebdomadaire and its sister publication, Assahifa al-Ousbouiya. Since they were founded in the late 1990s under the names Le Journal and Assahifa, the papers have boldly staked out new terrain in Moroccan journalism through tough investigative reporting on government corruption, corporate impropriety, and taboo political topics. For many Moroccan journalists, the publications are the first truly independent newspapers in the country.

In 2000, Moroccan authorities banned editions of Le Journal and Assahifa when Le Journal crossed a political redline by publishing an interview with Muhammad Abdelaziz, leader of the Polisario Front rebel movement, which has been fighting Morocco for independence of the Western Sahara since the 1970s. Later that year, Le Journal reprinted an explosive letter alleging that former Prime Minister Abderrahamane Youssefi, a former left-wing activist, had been involved in a 1972 plot to assassinate King Hassan II. The government responded by permanently banning both papers. The papers eventually reopened under the similar sounding names Le Journal Hebdomadaire and Assahifa al-Ousbouiya.

In 2001, Jamai and Assahifa al-Ousbouiya general manager Ali Ammar were convicted of defaming Foreign Minister Muhammad Ben Aissa after an article in Le Journal Hebdomadaire alleged that Ben Aissa had profited from the purchase of an official residence in Washington, D.C., during his tenure as Morocco’s ambassador to the United States. Jamai and Ammar were sentenced to three and two months in prison, respectively, and were ordered to pay fines and damages totaling 2 million dirhams (US$200,000). The sentences were eventually suspended, and an appeal is still pending.

In recent years, the government has adopted a new tactic to harass the papers by pressuring advertisers to refrain from buying ads in order to hurt the papers’ bottom line. But despite years of government harassment, Jamai’s newspapers have demonstrated a dogged determination to cover the news both professionally and independently while embracing the fundamental philosophy that those in positions of power should be held accountable for their actions.