The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today accused the Moroccan authorities of an “exaggerated, disproportionate and absurd” response to an article that exposed how people make jokes over religion, sex and politics.
A decision to prosecute a journalist and an editor and to close their magazine over an article on common jokes that Moroccans tell is a threat to press freedom, says the IFJ, and should lead to protest across the region.
Editor Driss Ksikes and reporter Sanaa al-Aji face jail terms of up to five years on charges of attacking Islam and going against morals and customs. Their magazine Nichane was closed over an article published on 9 December about jokes on religion, sex and politics in Morocco and analysed what they said about society.
“The prosecution of journalists for attempting to provide a serious analysis of Moroccan culture is a blatant attack on press freedom,” said IFJ General Secretary Aidan White. “This response is exaggerated, disproportionate and absurd.”
The IFJ says Morocco should be encouraging pluralism not censoring reporting, even when it is humorous or satirical. The IFJ says the charges against Driss and Sanaa must be dropped and the magazine allowed to resume publication and will raise the case at an upcoming meeting of journalists’ groups to be held in Algeria. On the agenda is a campaign against laws that curb press freedom in the region.
The two journalists are awaiting their trial, which according to press reports is scheduled to open next week and could bring jail terms of up to five years.
The IFJ is supporting its Moroccan member, the Syndicat National de la Presse Marocaine (SNPM), in their condemnation of the charges against the journalists. The SNPM says that the government action is illegal under Article 66 of the Moroccan Press Bill, which says only articles considered amoral can be prohibited, but publications themselves cannot be prohibited in a general or “permanent” manner.
The IFJ has joined other international press organisations in calling for the case to be withdrawn given that Nichane offered an apology to people who were offended by the article but said that the charges and prohibition against its publication was an attack on press freedom.
“The government must promote pluralism,” said White. “It cannot decide to ban publications because some people take offence at a particular article. To do so has a chilling effect on press freedom in Morocco.”
For more information contact the IFJ at 32 2 235 2207
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries worldwide