Reporters Without Borders has voiced its concerns about freedom of information in Morocco in a letter today to US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is to visit Rabat this week as part of the strategic dialogue between the United States and Morocco.
Kerry's visit was originally due to have taken place on 11-12 November but was postponed because of talks in Geneva about Iran's nuclear programme.
The letter urges Kerry to raise a number of issues in his talks with Moroccan foreign minister Salaheddine Mezouar, including the case of Ali Anouzla, a journalist who is being prosecuted under Morocco's anti-terrorism law.
US Secretary of State John Kerry
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
United States of America
Paris, 31 March 2014
Dear Secretary of State Kerry,
Reporters Without Borders would like to share with your its concerns about freedom of information in Morocco ahead of your official visit to Rabat for the second session in the strategic dialogue between the United States and Morocco.
The prosecution of the journalist Ali Anouzla is currently the subject of controversy in Morocco. The editor of the Arabic-language version of the Moroccan news website Lakome, Anouzla was arrested in Rabat on 17 September for posting a link to an article in the Spanish daily El País, which in turn had a link to a video attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
Anouzla was freed on 25 October after more than five weeks in “preventive detention” but continues to face a possible sentence of 10 to 30 years in prison on various charges including providing “material assistance” to a terrorist organization and “defending terrorist crimes.” He is next due to appear before the investigating judge in charge of the case on 20 May.
The Arabic and French-language versions of the Lakome site have meanwhile remained blocked since 17 October, despite Anouzla requests to the prosecutor’s office and, more recently, to Prime Minister Abdelillah Benkirane.
Reporters Without Borders is of the view that these judicial proceedings and the censorship of these websites are the result of a political and arbitrary decision and therefore constitute grave violations of the right to freedom of information.
The situation of freedom of information in Morocco, ranked 136th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, is the source of a number of other concerns that require concrete measures by the authorities in order to improve respect for the right to inform and be informed.
Reporters Without Borders has often stressed the need for legal reforms that would fully guarantee the principle of freedom of information. The promises of reform announced by the Moroccan authorities after the 2011 constitutional referendum have been slow to materialize.
Media offences urgently need to be decriminalized both in the press code (article 41) and in the penal code (articles 179, 54, 65 and 66), but without any resulting increase in the size of fines, which must continue to be proportionate. And the law must clearly and precisely define these offences, especially “insults” and “grave insults,” which are extremely subjective and give the authorities, especially judges, a great deal of scope for arbitrary decisions.
The principle that a special law has primacy over a general law must be reaffirmed so that no provision in the penal code is applied when a media offence is concerned. At the same time, the judiciary must be reformed in order to ensure that judges are really independent.
Reporters Without Borders also calls for the elimination of the “red lines” imposed by the law or by practice on coverage of such subjects as the monarchy, Islam and territorial integrity, and an end to publishing bans for blasphemy.
An independent and transparent mechanism is needed for issuing press cards and accreditation to Moroccan and foreign journalist working for both national and international media. Neither the issuing nor withdrawal of a press card or accreditation should be the result of an arbitrary political decision. A decision to withdraw should be exceptional and should be taken by a court.
Independent and transparent mechanisms for allocating direct state subsidies to the media, for allocating state and private-sector advertising, and for regulating or self-regulating the print and broadcast media are also needed.
We therefore think it is important that, in the course of your talks with your Moroccan counterpart, Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, you should raise the subject of freedom of information in Morocco and, in particular, the disturbing practices used in the case of Ali Anouzla and the Lakome website, which pose a grave threat to all independent media in Morocco.
I thank you in advance for the attention you give to this letter.
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general
cc - US Embassy in Morocco