The Moroccan authorities are ratcheting up their attacks on independent journalists. A week rarely passes without the authorities hitting hard on the press for alleged infractions, cracking down on printed as well as online media. Press freedom watchdogs like Reporters Without Borders judge the situation of Press freedom in the country now as “difficult,” condemning a “judicial system [that] deploys an arsenal of sanctions designed to intimidate and financially asphyxiate the independent press.”
The latest attack on record has been a jail sentence pronounced on Monday from a court in Casablanca against Said Laâjal, a journalist in Al Massa'e, a widely read daily newspaper, and his publisher Rachid Nini, a popular columnist. Both journalists have been accused of “publication of false information” in connection with an article on a case of drug trafficking. Nini has declared that he won't be appealing the verdict (source: AFP). Bloggers have been reflecting on the case and the state of affairs.
eatbees, an American novelist, photographer and blogger who lives in Morocco has his suspicions about the real motivation of the prosecutors. He writes:
This is the criminalization of journalism, pure and simple. Reporters sometimes make mistakes and report things that turn out to be false. There are ways to handle that, but sending the journalists to jail is not one of them. I have the strong suspicion that Nini and Laâjal were prosecuted, not because of the facts of the case, but because they embarrassed someone important. Or maybe this was just a convenient way to go after Nini, who as publisher of Morocco’s most widely read newspaper and author of Morocco’s most widely read opinion column, is becoming a power center in his own right.
If Nini follows through on his commitment not to appeal, and goes to prison, it will be an act of courage and of civil disobedience. It will make him a martyr for press freedom in the eyes of millions of Moroccans. Good luck with that, Moroccan state.
It is worth mentioning that the journalist is already under a heavy fine for libel, threatening to bankrupt the whole publication, as blogger Ibn Kafka wrote recently [Fr], referring to a letter alleged to be written by Nini, pleading for a royal pardon:
Rachid Nini vit légitimement fort bien de cette florissante entreprise de presse (dans le contexte ravagé de la presse marocaine)…
[Il] aurait adressé une supplique au Roi […] dans laquelle il demande l’absolution des pêchés – en clair, la grâce pour son journal. Rien ne permet de garantir cette information, qui en soi n’est pas infâmante.
Some believe Nini had sent a letter of supplication to the King in which he seeks absolution of sins – in clear, asking for a pardon for his newspaper. There is no confirmation of that information, which in itself is not infamous.
Rachid Nini has raised controversy recently when he publicly disavowed one of his journalists who showed support for colleagues who were being harrassed and prosecuted by the government. Larbi, who is blogging on Comme une bouteille jetée à la mer!, argues [Fr] this doesn't make Nini worthy of a jail sentence nor should the journalist be considered a hero. He writes:
[H]eureusement que tout le monde n’a pas la même conception de la liberté d’expression et liberté de la presse que celle de Monsieur Nini. La place des journalistes n’est pas la prison mais dans leurs rédactions. Cela vaut pour tous les journalistes. Cela vaut pour Monsieur Nini . Et encore plus pour le journaliste Saïd Laâjal. La place de Rachid Nini et de Saïd Laâjal n’est pas la prison mais dans leur rédaction. Je suis bien entendu solidaire avec Rachid Nini et Saïd Laâjal. Parce que la peine de prison ferme qui leur est infligée est injuste au vu de ce qui leur est reproché. Et parce que même Monsieur Nini a a droit à ce qu’il a toujours dénié aux autres : exercer son métier de journaliste et s’exprimer librement, sans intimidations et sans procès arbitraires débouchant sur des peines infamantes.
An opinion shared by Naoufel who explains [Ar] that Press freedom should apply to everyone, even to Mr Nini. He writes:
هو بالنسبة لي شخص وقح .. انتهازي و متملق، يكتب ضد أي شيء إلا الملك..يحاكم الحكومة و الشعب و زملائه في الصحافة لكنه لا يتجرأ أن يقترب من مربع القصر رغم أن اصغر طفل في المملكة التي لم تعد شريفة يعرف أن أصغر قرار لا يمر دون دراية الملك..كتب ضد من كانوا زملائه[…]
الآن..هل نتضامن معه؟
لا خيار آخر
I’m on Team Naoufel for this one: There are plenty of horribly arrogant journalists in Morocco, the US, and elsewhere, but I support each of their right to free speech regardless of what obnoxious drivel they have to say!
There is an old saying in Morocco that goes like this:
“When the Knights talk about the feats of their stallions ABBOU brings up his mule”. We have to keep an element of perspective and compare apples with apples. Although I understand the frustration experienced by some Americans vis-à-vis their media and as Noam Chomsky beautifully sums it up in this quote: “” Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S media.”, the situation in Morocco is extremely different and even unique. Historically, Political traditions inherited from the French and the authoritarianism of the monarchy has created a legal framework that allows the government to restrict the flow of information and particularly control the written Press. On the other hand the Moroccan Press is highly subsidised by the government to keep quiet. The very existence of these subsidies is difficult to square with the making of a free press. Whereas in the US the press play an important role in opinion shaping and to certain extent “Brain washing”, is mainly controlled by the special interest that have their own agendas and as Goethe puts it: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free”. However, in Morocco people can see very clearly through this masquerade and understand that the vey notion of the “Tawabit” is there to be used to muzzle people up. The difference between God and the King is that one is powerless and the other can through you in jail and have you tortured.
Sorry its “throw you in jail” and have you tortured.