Reporters Without Borders condemned an assault on a journalist from the weekly al Bidawi, Munir al-Ktawi, while covering a meeting in a Rabat hotel on 24 May of a Sahrawi lobby for continued Moroccan control in the Western Sahara.
"We now expect it of Moroccan journalists that they take sides against the Polisario (political-military movement claiming independence for the Western Sahara)", said the organisation.
"As soon as a media quotes separatist movements or Polisario members, it is immediately denounced as a traitor by the over-zealous who want to make sure of administrative posts. There is a real exploitation of the Sahara question for personal ends. Journalists on al Bidawi have joined Ali Lmrabet in the ranks of the untouchables" it added.
Several journalists including al-Ktawi were in a hotel in the capital to cover a reunion of local Sahrawi elected officials. Khalihanna Uled Rashid, chairman of the Laâyoune local council and former minister for Sahrawi affairs, took advantage of the occasion to fiercely criticise the independent press.
Brandishing a copy of al-Bidawi, he described it as "gutter press" before throwing it to the ground. As soon as al-Ktawi's attendance became known, he was ordered to leave the room on the grounds that he was not Sahrawi. When he refused, several local officials first threatened and then threw him out of the room, while kicking and punching him. They also destroyed his camera.
"In condemning Ali Lmrabet to 10 years ban on practising his profession, the Moroccan authorities gave the go-ahead for open season on media who do not handle the Sahara issue in the conventional way," said Reporters Without Borders, calling for justice for al Ktawi by taking his attackers to court.
Al-Bidawi is an Arabic-language weekly that dares to tackle several taboo subjects such as the monarchy, Islamist networks and the Western Sahara Question. It has carried an interview with the Polisario leader, Mohammad Abdelaziz as well as several reports on the daily needs of the southern population, which are never handled in the big political debates on the Western Sahara.