- As the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, has announced an official visit to Morocco, activists urge him to use the opportunity to speak for imprisoned editor Ali Lmrabet and King Mohammed VI's failure to reform and democratise.
Mr Powell has announced he will be received by Moroccan King Mohammed VI when arriving the country on an official visit on 2 December (next Tuesday). The US Secretary of State is to visit several North African states and their leaders.
The Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) used this rare occasion to call on Mr Powell to "persuade King Mohammed VI to release imprisoned journalists" during his reception in Rabat. The US is after all turning into Morocco's second most important ally, after Washington's fierce competitor, France.
- The United States regularly stresses its attachment to press freedom, so we ask you to make full respect for this basic freedom a priority in your talks with the king, and to make US economic aid conditional on it, said Robert Ménard, the French group's Secretary-General, in a message to Mr Powell.
Two journalists are currently in Moroccan prisons. Ali Lmrabet has been jailed since 21 May and Mohammed el-Hourd since 13 June. Three others - Moustapha Kechnini, Abdelaziz Jallouli and Miloud Trigui - have been given prison sentences ranging from 18 months to two years, but are still free pending appeals.
On 7 November, US President George Bush called for the democratisation of governments in the Middle East and said Morocco had made significant progress in this regard - a statement that has been strongly criticised.
RSF noted, for example, that press freedom is the key to democracy. In fact, press freedom has rather been more restricted than more promoted during the regime of King Mohammed VI. Morocco was the country falling steepest on RSF's last annual press freedom index.
Morocco is a strong US regional ally, in particular in military terms. The Kingdom also gets much-needed economic aid from the US and a free trade deal is currently being negotiated. On 28 October, Washington announced it would quadruple its non-military aid to Morocco as of 2004.
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