- Two Moroccan weekly newspapers have been suspended for three months by the application of an 18-month-old court order, despite the fact the order was later rescinded by a royal pardon. The weeklies in 2003 had published a statement by a group that claimed responsibility for the terrorist attacks in Casablanca the same year.
The Arabic-language weeklies 'Al Hayat al Maghribia' ('Moroccan Life') and 'Asharq' ('The East') on Tuesday received a court order of a three-month suspension with immediate effect. The sudden order came as a complete surprise to the editors of the two newspapers.
The Rabat Appeals Court originally had sentenced these two independent weeklies to three months' suspension in August 2003 for publishing a statement on their front pages by an organisation claiming responsibility for three of the five Casablanca bombings.
- However, there are no longer any legal grounds for pursuing the case as the ruling was later quashed by a royal pardon, the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said in a protest statement today. "We call on the authorities to clarify the reasons for this suspension or simply allow them to resume publishing at once," RSF added, condemning the court's order.
'Al Hayat al Maghribia' editor Mustapha Kechnanni and 'Asharq' editor Mohammad Lhourd were summoned to the office of regional intelligence chief Khalid Hamouda, in the north-eastern city of Oujda, on 18 January and told the Justice Ministry had ordered their newspapers' immediate closure.
According to their reports to RSF, they were given no chance to appeal the sudden decision. Had a new complaint been filed, the law would have allowed them to appeal to the Supreme Court, RSF notes.
Mr Kechnanni and Mr Lhourd asked to see a copy of the Justice Ministry order but their request was refused. They were notified verbally of both the summons and the suspension order. In protest, the two editors refused to sign a statement summarising what had taken place at the meeting.
Afterwards, the authorities immediately ordered the seizure of all copies of the newspapers from newsstands throughout the kingdom, instructed the distribution company Sapress to stop distributing the papers, and told printing companies to stop printing them.
State violations of press freedom have become more frequent and more arbitrary during the last few years in Morocco. The independent press in the kingdom is carefully censoring itself, in particular regarding issues that treat the monarchy, Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara, Islam, terrorism and corruption. Reporting on these issues often leads to fierce legal action.
Security measures in Morocco, which increased after the 11 September attacks in the US, were tightened further after Islamist bomb attacks in Casablanca in May 2003. This led to significant curbs on civil liberties and freedom of expression in the kingdom. Since 2003, more and more Moroccan journalists have been prosecuted and imprisoned on the pretext of fighting terrorism.
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