Morocco - Demo outside Moroccan embassy in Paris in defence of press freedom

MONTREAL, Oct. 23 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders and the Paris-based news website Bakchich organised a demonstration yesterday outside the Moroccan embassy in Paris in a show of support for Moroccan journalists who have been targeted by a wave of legal actions and severe sanctions in recent weeks. Disproportionate sentences and damages awards are threatening media diversity in Morocco.

"This protest was called in response to the wave of trials and disproportionate sentences affecting privately-owned publications," Reporters Without Borders said. "Media freedom is being threatened by stricter enforcement of the 'red lines' that the government imposes on news coverage. In recent weeks, publications have been shut down and journalists have been jailed or ordered to pay fines running to several hundred thousand euros."

The press freedom organisation added: "This harassment, which is clearly being orchestrated from the Royal Palace, must stop. If Le Journal Hebdomadaire, Akhbar Al-Youm or Al-Michaal had to stop publishing as a result of exorbitant fines imposed by the courts, it would represent a serious step backwards for Morocco."

At the end of yesterday's protest, three of the Moroccan ambassador's advisers received two Bakchich journalists and a Reporters Without Borders representative, who expressed their concern about the recent wave of lawsuits and the exorbitant fines and jail sentences that have been passed on journalists. The embassy officials promised to pass on these concerns to the Moroccan government.

Taoufiq Bouachrine, the publisher of the Casablanca-based newspaper Akhbar al-Youm, and cartoonist Khalid Gueddar will be the targets of two parallel lawsuits tomorrow in connection with a cartoon of Moulay Ismaïl, a cousin of the king, that appeared in its 26-27 September issue. One of the actions, brought by the interior ministry, accuses them of "attacking an emblem of the kingdom." The other, brought by Ismaïl himself, is demanding 266,000 euros in damages for "failing to accord due respect to a member of the royal family." The newspaper's headquarters are meanwhile closed and guarded by police.

On 26 October, a court in Rabat is due to issue a verdict in the trial of Ali Anouzla, the editor of the daily Al-Jarida Al-Oula, on a charge of publishing false information and "mendacious allegations and facts with the intention of causing harm." The prosecution was prompted by a 27 August article that contradicted a bulletin about King Mohammed's health and said he was treating his asthma with cortisone.

As a result of a supreme court ruling on 30 September, Le Journal Hebdomadaire, one of Morocco's few independent newspapers, was ordered to pay 250,000 euros in damages on 18 October in a libel suit dating back to 2006. If the weekly is forced to pay, its survival would be doubt.

A Rabat court sentenced Idriss Chahtane of the newspaper Al-Michaal to a year in prison on 15 October, at the end of a trial without defence lawyers over another article about the king's health. Two other journalists, Rachid Mahamid and Mustapha Hayrane, were given three-month jail terms in connection with the same article and all three were ordered to pay several thousand dirhams in damages. Chahtane was arrested and jailed that evening.

SOURCE News - Media

For further information: For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Executive Director, Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514) 521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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