June 2, 2017 - Updated on June 3, 2017

Journalists must be free to cover Rif protests

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the harassment of journalists and citizen-journalists covering the frequent protests in northern Morocco’s Rif region since Mohcine Fikri, a fish seller, was crushed to death by garbage truck last October.

Are the authorities trying to hide what is going on in the Rif? According to the information so far gathered by RSF, two journalists have been arrested and three have gone into hiding in the past few days, while an Algerian journalist has been deported.

Mohamed Al Asrihi and Jawad Al Sabry, two reporters for the news website Rif24, and Abd Al Ali Haddou, a presenter on Araghi TV (a web TV), have been in hiding since 26 May for fear of being arrested and charged.

Rif Press photographer Houssein Al Idrissi and Awar TV reporter Fouad Assaidi were arrested in the city of Al Hoceima on 27 May and were immediately taken to Casablanca for further questioning by the judicial police.

It is not yet known on what grounds they are being held. But they were arrested at the same time as members of the Al-Hirak protest movement and it is feared that criminal charges could be brought against them that have nothing to do with their journalistic activities.

“It is vital that journalists and citizen-journalists should be allowed to cover the events in the Rif, or else this region could become a no-go zone for independent news coverage as the Western Sahara is already,” RSF editor-in-chief Virginie Dangles said.

“We urge the Moroccan authorities to free the citizen-journalists currently detained for exercising their right to inform. We also call for an end to the prosecutions and threats against them.”

Foreign journalists trying to cover the unrest in the Rif have not been spared. Djamal Alilat, a leading reporter for the Algerian newspaper El Watan, was arrested in Nador on 28 May and was deported after being held for more than 24 hours without returning his seized equipment.

The authorities said Alilat was expelled because he had no permit to film. This much-used pretext lends itself to abuse because the criteria for issuing permits are not transparent. The authorities do not notify applicants within a reasonable period that their application has been turned down, and no reason is given for a refusal.

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