afrol News, 7 January - The prominent Moroccan editor Ali Lmrabet today was pardoned by royal decree after spending more than seven months in prison. Mr Lmrabet last year was found guilty of offending the King and "undermining the monarchy."
Official sources in Morocco confirm that Mr Lmrabet will be set free today after being pardoned by King Mohammed VI. The 44-year-old was freed "on humanitarian reasons," the sources said.
The case of Mr Lmrabet has gained massive exposure in world media after press freedom groups had pointed to it. The fate of the editor of the weekly 'Demain Magazine' became a symbol of the King's failure to reform and democratise the country. Since the case came up, it has caused a serious image problem for the Moroccan monarchy.
Ali Lmrabet was already serving a three-year prison sentence, handed down on appeal on 17 June 2003. He was convicted on charges of insulting Mohammed VI, "undermining the monarchy" and "threatening the integrity of the national territory" on the basis of several articles, cartoons and a photo-montage which had appeared in his newspapers.
These included an article featuring extracts of an interview, already published in a Spanish newspaper, with a former Moroccan political prisoner advocating the right to self-determination for Sahrawis in Western Sahara and a cartoon commenting on the parliamentary approval of the budget for the royal household. He was also fined 20,000 dirhams (approximately euro 1,700) and a ban was imposed on his newspapers.
The monarchy and the status of Western Sahara largely are taboo subjects for public discussion. According to Amnesty International, several people, including journalists and political activists, have been imprisoned in recent months after peacefully expressing views on these issues.
According to the Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), which has been a strong advocate for Mr Lmrabet's, his case has been symptomatic of the retraction of the freedom of expression in Morocco during 2002 and 2003.
- In Morocco, the hopes pinned on Mohammed VI when he became king in July 1999 have been dashed, RSF concluded in its annual report on press freedom. "Independent newspapers are still subject to constant harassment from the authorities."
The pardoning of Mr Lmrabet today certainly will be welcomed by press freedom and human rights groups in Morocco and outside the country. It however remains uncertain whether the editor will be let re-opening his critical publications.
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