The International Federation of Journalists today condemned the decision by a Casablanca court to issue jail sentences against the two journalists at the weekly Arab-language daily Al Watan Al An after they were arrested last month for publishing material quoting security sources.
Mustapha Hurmatallah, the author of the feature entitled “Secret reports behind the state of alert in Morocco” was given an eight-month jail sentence and fined 1000 Moroccan Dirham (around 90 Euro). The managing director of the publication, Abderrahim Ariri, who was freed on bail, received a suspended sentence of six months and a similar fine.
“This is a day of shame for the Moroccan government” said IFJ President Jim Boumelha. “There is no doubt that this is a politically-motivated judgement designed to intimidate journalists and warn them of the cost of reporting government state secrets.”
The two journalists were first charged with publishing “reports of a confidential nature linked to defence secrets.” Later Ariri was freed provisionally while Hurmatallah was kept in prison pending the opening of the court proceedings adjourned to today. They were both charged with "handling stolen documents."
The IFJ affiliate, the Syndicat national de la presse marocaine (SNPM), took strike action on the day the trial opened calling it “a travesty of justice” and pressing for the charges to be dismissed and the journalists freed.
“Our call fell on deaf ears” said IFJ Vice-President and General Secretary of the SNPM Younes M’jahed, “the judiciary is being used once again to gag journalists.”
This verdict was announced at a time when Moroccan journalists are coming under increased pressure from the authorities. In another case, Ahmed Benchemsi, the editor of two other weeklies, Nichane in Arabic and TelQuel in French will appear in court in Casablanca on August 24th and may face three to five years in prison for an article that allegedly failed to show due respect for the Moroccan monarch in breach of the Moroccan Press Law. The two publications were seized by the authorities and destroyed.
“By putting these journalists on trial and sentencing them to prison, the Moroccan government puts itself in the dock for its violation of press rights and it will be judged accordingly by the world community of journalists” said Boumelha. “This verdict delivers a hammer blow to Morocco’s reputation. It is sheer hypocrisy for government representatives such as Communications Minister Nabil Benabdellah to continue boasting about advances in democracy and freedom for Moroccan journalism when his country’s courts are throwing journalists into prison for doing their jobs.”
The IFJ will be supporting the appeal by the journalists’ lawyers against the sentence.
For more information contact the IFJ at 32 3 235 2207
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries worldwide