Freedom of the Press Cut in Morocco

Controversial Moroccan journalist sentenced to one year in prison and fined for writing articles that angered the government.

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Chana Ya'ar and Elad Benari, | updated: 00:15

King Mohammed VI of Morocco
King Mohammed VI of Morocco
Israel news photo: Wikipedia / U. Dettmar

A controversial Moroccan journalist has been sentenced in Casablanca to one year in prison and fined the equivalent of 100 euros.

Rachid Nini, publisher of the Al Massae, Morocco's leading newspaper, was indicted in late April for writing articles that angered the government, and possibly King Mohammed VI. The pieces included articles on corruption in government.

This past Thursday, June 9, Nini was pronounced guilty under criminal codes, rather than press law. Under Moroccan statutes, a journalist or publisher can be fined for erroneous coverage of matters concerning the state, according to CNN.

Nini was charged with disinformation, attacking state institutions, public figures and the “security and integrity of the nation and citizens.”

The National Moroccan Press Syndicate (SNPM) condemned the verdict and said it was determined to continue a campaign to protest the ruling.

Khadija Ryadi, president of the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), also condemned the verdict and sentence. She said, “no journalist in Morocco should be sent to jail for writing any kind of article... and furthermore, the way this case was handled by the prosecutors was also astonishing in that Mr. Nini’s witnesses were not allowed to be presented in court.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists called the decision “another example of how the Moroccan judiciary is utilized to curb press freedom.”

Defense attorney Khaled Soufiani told media the sentence meted out to Nini constituted a political message to the Moroccan media so it would not cross the red lines.

“That ruling is a serious infringement on the freedom of expression,” he told Magharebia. Soufiani added that he would appeal the decision.

Morocco has seen its share of anti-government demonstrations in the wake of the recent uprisings throughout the Arab world.

In February, thousands of Moroccans protested against the regime, demanding that the king transfer some of his power to an elected government and make the justice system independent.

Following the protests, King Mohammed announced that the country would revise its constitution for the first time in 15 years.

Morocco has also been the scene of some anti-Semitic protests, which have raised serious concerns among Jewish residents that the demonstrations would lead to imminent harm for the Jewish community in Morocco.