July 26, 2017

Call for release of editor jailed over coverage of Rif protest

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of Hamid El Mahdaoui, the editor of the news website, who was sentenced yesterday to three months in prison in connection with his coverage of a wave of protests in northern Morocco’s Rif region.

The sentence was imposed by a court in the Rif city of Al-Hoceïma, which found him guilty of “inviting” people to “participate in a banned demonstration.” The court also fined him 20,000 dirhams (1,800 euros).

Mahdaoui had been in pre-trial detention since his arrest on 20 July in Al-Hoceïma, where he had gone to cover a peaceful demonstration held in the city that day in defiance of a ban imposed a few days earlier.

“We call for Hamid El Mahdaoui’s immediate release,” said Yasmine Kacha, the head of RSF’s North Africa bureau. “This recognized journalist just did his job, which was to inform. So why was be prosecuted under the penal code? Was this unjust and summary conviction designed to punish a media outlet whose revelations have been embarrassing the Kingdom for years?”

The repeated target of judicial summonses, Mahdaoui was given a four-month suspended prison sentence in June 2015 for articles revealing that police tortured an activist, Karim Lachkar, in an Al-Hoceïma police station in May 2014. He was also fined and ordered to pay damages.

In June 2016, Mahdaoui was convicted again for an article accusing the then justice ministry of claiming excessive travel expenses.

Seven citizen-journalists and media workers have been arrested in or near Al-Hoceïma since 26 May over their coverage of the Rif region’s protest movement, called “Hirak,” which was triggered by fishmonger Mohcine Fikri’s death last October.

Mahdaoui’s conviction follows that of Rif Press website editor Mohamed El Hilali, who was sentenced to five months in prison on 30 June on charges of “insulting police officers in the course of their work” and “demonstrating without prior authorization.”

Morocco is ranked 133rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.