The Marrakesh Court of Appeals in Morocco has upheld a lower court's guilty verdict against an 18-year-old student for insulting the King. Yassin Bellasal
was sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term and a fine of 1,000 dirhams (approximately US$115).
Amnesty International said that the verdict serves to confirm that the monarchy remains a taboo topic in Morocco and shed a different
light on the image projected by the Moroccan authorities of a state, where respect for human rights has greatly improved.
Two Moroccan magazines have been banned for publishing an opinion poll of the King in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of his rule.
All issues of Arabic-language weekly magazine Nichane and its French-language sister publication Telquel
were seized by the Interior Ministry.
The Interior Ministry ordered the seizure of the issues of Telquel and Nichane following the printing of articles that violate the law, the ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
seized issue of Telquel featured King Mohammed VI on its cover with the words The People Judge Their King emblazoned on his image.
The magazine conducted an opinion poll asking readers what they thought of the last ten years of King
Mohammed VI's rule, and the results were overwhelmingly positive.
The poll showed that 91% of Moroccans are satisfied or very satisfied with the king's performance.
An editor of Telquel told French media that authorities told the magazine
it was unacceptable in principle” to publish an opinion poll about the king, which is why the issues were seized.
Rights organization Reporters Without Borders said that while there have been significant improvements in press freedom in
the past ten years, extreme censorship is still prevalent. In the past ten years, according to the organization, Moroccan journalists have been sentenced to a total of 25 years in jail and news organizations have been fined a total of 2.8 million
The fundamental problem is this, a popular blogger Larbi wrote: In Morocco the king governs, he is the head of state, and the chief executive. But at the same time he is a sacred person. So whoever wants to talk about Moroccan
politics finds himself in this dilemma: how do you speak about the actions of a head of state that presides over the destiny of 30 million Moroccans when the law punishes those who speak of, and violate his sacredness?
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the closure of a Moroccan independent daily amid an escalating government campaign to silence critical journalists.
On Tuesday, police prevented Taoufik Bouachrine, managing publisher and editor of the
daily Akhbar al-Youm, and dozens of staff members from entering the offices of the Casablanca-based newspaper.
The sudden move followed a statement from the Ministry of the Interior accusing the independent daily of blatant disrespect to a
member of the royal family for publishing in its September 26-27 weekend edition a cartoon on a strictly private wedding ceremony organized by the royal family. Prince Moulay Ismail, the cousin of King Mohamed VI, was married in a ceremony
that, though private, had generated considerable interest and coverage in local newspapers.
Police detained and interrogated Bouachrine and cartoonist Khaled Kadar for more than 24 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday in Casablanca, lawyers told CPJ.
Lawyers told CPJ that the allegations against Akhbar al-Youm are groundless and that the Ministry of the Interior has no legal authority to shutter a newspaper unilaterally. Article 77 of the Moroccan Press Law goes only so far as to authorize the
ministry to ban a single issue of a periodical deemed disrespectful to the royal family.
We urge King Mohamed VI to order an immediate end to the arbitrary siege of Akhbar al-Youm and to immediately back the right of our colleagues to do their
job without police or judicial harassment, said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. The time has come for a regime that constantly pays lip service to democracy to turn the page on abusing the law to settle
scores with critical journalists.
Blatant disrespect to a member of the royal family
The cartoon, published September 26-27, 2009 by
the daily, is a blatant disrespect to a member of the royal family, said a statement by the Ministry on Monday.
In addition to tendentiously using the national flag, the cartoon undermines a symbol of the Nation by insulting the emblem
of the Kingdom, the statement said, adding that the use of the Star of David in the cartoon raises many questions on the insinuations of the people behind it and suggests flagrant anti-Semitic penchants.
In light of the elements at
hand, the Interior Minister has decided, in accordance with the laws in force, to sue and seize the daily, and to take the appropriate measures concerning the paper's equipment and premises, the document said.
In the same vein, Prince Moulay
Ismail has decided to take legal action concerning this issue.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) strongly condemns the decision of a Rabat court to imprison the managing editor of Al-Michaal newspaper for one year.
A Rabat misdemeanor court sentenced Driss Chahtan to a year in jail and Al-Michaal
journalists Mostafa Hiran and Rashid Mahameed to three months in prison and a 5,000 dirham (US$655) fine each for intentionally publishing false information in a number of articles about King Mohamed VI's health, local journalists told CPJ.
The paper's lawyers walked out of the hearing on October 8 to protest procedural violations and the court's failure to abide by basic standards for a fair trial, they said.
Immediately after the court ruling, around two dozen policemen stormed the
Casablanca-based offices of Al-Michaal and arrested Chahtan, journalists told CPJ. Lahbib Mohamed Haji, one of the newspaper's lawyers told CPJ that the arrest violated the country's penal code, saying that the public prosecutor had no legal basis to
request the imprisonment after the court issued its decision.
Haji said he has appealed the ruling. Neither Hiran nor Mahameed have been detained.
These jail terms are part of a disturbing trend of repression of critical journalism
in Morocco, said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. The government has failed to keep its repeated promise to reform restrictive press legislation and a politicized judiciary. We call on the appeals court to overturn these convictions. Meanwhile
our colleague should be released on bail.
Moroccan newspaper Al-Michaal was banned on 13 November after editor in chief Driss Chahtan was sentenced to one year in prison and a 10,000 dirham fine as punishment for his articles about the health of King Mohamed VI.
On Sept. 28, 2009, the government ordered Akbar el Youm silenced, shuttered its offices in Casablanca, and posted policemen at its entrance to prevent any of the newspaper's 70 employees from reaching their desks.
The reason? This cartoon
by Khalid Gueddar, published on Sept. 26:
It's Moulay Ismail on his nuptial truss, says the line in Arabic. Moulay Ismail is a cousin of Mohammed VI. He got married to a German woman recently. The faintly Hitlerean pose of the cartoon is
gratuitous and vulgar. The Moroccan ministry of the interior didn't like the cartoon. It called it anti-Semitic for the way it portrayed the Moroccan star apparently as a Star of David.
The ministry then displayed its own anti-Semitism when it
charged that the depiction of the national star as a Star of David was an outrage to the flag. The cartoon, the ministry charged, also lacked respect for the royal family --which, in Morocco, must be respected more than humor, truth or
justice, as the cartoon case proved: Khaled Gueddar and his editor, Toufik Bouachrine, now face three to five years in prison. Moulay Ismail, the nuptialized prince, is claiming $400,000 in damages.
Morocco blocked distribution of an edition of leading Spanish daily newspaper El Pais after it reprinted cartoons deemed disrespectful to the royal family, the newspaper said. Morocco also blocked distribution of editions of the French newspaper
Le Monde over the cartoons.
Moroccan authorities accused the newspapers of attacking the monarchy with the publication of the cartoons.
One of the cartoons is by Le Monde's star cartoonist Plantu and it depicts a hand reaching out of
a Moroccan flag to create a child-like drawing of a funny face wearing a crown.
The other is by Moroccan caricaturist Khalid Gueddar and it alludes to the 25 September wedding of Prince Moulay Ismail, a cousin of King Mohammed VI, to a German
convert to Islam.
The Federation of Journalist Associations in Spain said it deplored the distribution ban slapped on El Pais, saying in a statement it was regrettable that the Moroccan ministry of communication had opted for censorship
The closure of the daring magazine Le Journal Hebdomadaire is a sign of renewed authoritarianism in Morocco
Last Thursday, I learned from the man behind Le Journal, Abou Bakr Jamai, that bailiffs had come to the magazine's office, just
as its journalists were putting the final touches on a new issue, to seize its assets. A series of crippling libel fines and debts to the tax authorities had driven it to bankruptcy. We can already officially announce the death of Le Journal, Jamai told me. I was shaken to learn that no more issues of Le Journal would appear, although not surprised. It had become clear for several years that the palace – whether the king himself or his coterie of advisers – had given up on trying to co-opt or intimidate the magazine, as it has done with many other publications, and would sooner or later succeed in pushing it into oblivion by economic means.
Morocco's top Arabic-language weekly Nichane has closed after a board meeting of its shareholders.
The magazine's large circulation should have made it a prime advertising outlet. Yet Nichane has suffered a persistent advertising
boycott campaign initiated by the royally-owned ONA/SNI group, the largest corporation in Morocco, and eventually followed by major companies linked to the regime.
The closure of Nichane raises troubling questions about Morocco's commitment
to press freedom. The thousands upon thousands of Moroccan readers who made Nichane a best-seller have now been deprived of a unique source of independent reporting.
The magazine, founded in 2006 as a modernist and secular media outlet
published in local Moroccan Arabic, has been praised in Morocco and abroad for its daring taboo-tackling cover stories. These include: The King's cult of personality , Sex and homosexuality in Islamic culture , Morocco, #1 marijuana
producer in the world , Inside Moroccan secret services , How Moroccans joke about Islam, sex and the monarchy. , and more.
Yet because of its often critical positions towards the regime, Nichane – along with TelQuel
, its French-language sister publication – was from its inception targeted by a large advertising boycott campaign. That campaign intensified after September 2009 when the government censored publication of an opinion poll on King Mohammed VI
(another first, in Morocco and the entire Arab World) published by Nichane , TelQuel and the French daily Le Monde .
Many of Morocco's major companies are owned by the royal family, by the government, or by moguls closely
connected to the regime. Because of political pressure and a boycott campaign launched by royal ONA/SNI group, many of these companies in various economic sectors (e.g., banking, telecommunications, real estate, air transportation) over time began to
remove TelQuel Group publications from their advertising purchases.
On Monday, a court in the Moroccan city of Taza sentenced 24 year-old student Abdelsamad Haydour to 3 years in jail and a fine of USD 1,200 for criticizing the king of Morocco in a video posted on YouTube. According to the official state news agency,
Haydour is accused of attacking the sacred values of the nation.
According to one Moroccan news website Haydour had no legal assistance during the hearing and the Court did not appoint a lawyer to defend the accused in accordance with the
Under Moroccan law the king is considered inviolable. But the Moroccan constitution also guarantees (Article 25) freedom of thought, opinion and expression in all its forms.
The incriminating four-minute clip was
posted in early January, during a week of social unrest and violent clashes between demonstrators and anti-riot police in the unemployement-stricken city of Taza. In the video, Abdelsamad Haydour is seen talking to a group of people in the street,
harshly criticizing the king and his entourage.
Morocco has banned the distribution of Thursday's edition of Spain's El Pais newspaper, as a cartoon published by the newspaper allegedly tarnished King Mohammed VI's name.
The decision to ban (the paper) was made on the basis of article 29 of
the press code that protects the monarch, a senior communication ministry official told AFP: The caricature contains a deliberate intention to smear the (king's) image to harm the king personally.
The cartoon, which was picked up by a
Moroccan website, accompanied an article by Spanish journalist Ignacio Cembrero. Contacted by AFP, Cembrero said the Moroccan reaction surprised him as the small cartoon was friendly and rather likeable .
The International Publishers Association is speaking out after authorities in Morocco banned the Spanish-language daily newspaper El Pai's from distributing its February 26 issue because of an excerpt it featured from the French book Le Roi
predateur (The Predator King).
The book, written by Catherine Graciet and Eric Laurent, offers a critical look at the King of Morocco, and is being published in France by the French house Le Seuil.
The IPA is calling the cancelation of
the paper in Morocco an act of censorship. IPA member Olivier Betourne, said:
By prohibiting the issue of the El Pais daily, which included excerpts of The Predator King, the Moroccan authorities go against the wind of
freedom which is currently blowing in the MENA region. Not only does IPA condemn the censorship of the Spanish daily, it also urges Morocco to authorize the distribution in Morocco of The Predator King.