Reporters Without Borders is deeply concerned by the arrests on 16 June of journalist Tor Dagfinn Dommersnes and photographer Fredrik Refvem of the Norwegian daily Stavanger Aftenbladet, who have been declared "persona non grata".
The international press freedom organisation called on the Moroccan authorities to allow the journalists, who complied with all the necessary formalities, to be allowed to travel freely. It recalled that Norwegian journalist Erik Hagen was expelled on 5 April 2004 and French journalist Catherine Graciet with French photographer Nadia Ferroukhi on 28 January 2004.
"The Moroccan authorities keep a close watch on the activities and movements of journalists and try to stop any independent reporting on Western Sahara," said the organisation.
"We have accounts from foreign journalists who had not even interviewed their contacts when they were arrested and expelled. It is obvious that foreign journalists are followed and their phones tapped. These arrests and obstruction of press freedom are extremely serious. We call on the Moroccan authorities to cancel the decision to expel Tor Daghfinn Dommersnes and Fredrik Refvem".
Four security agents arrested the two journalists in their rooms at the Sofitel Hotel in Rabat on the grounds that they were "persona non grata" and were "breaking Moroccan law". The journalists had press visas and permission to take photographs.
They had arrived three days earlier and were about to interview someone about the Western Sahara question at 10am. Mommersnes had phoned the contact from the hotel the evening before to make an appointment.
"The security services were very probably aware of the phone call and that led to our arrest," Mommersnes told Reporters Without Borders by telephone as he was about to be expelled to France.
Reporters Without Borders recalled that on 5 April 2004, Norwegian journalist Erik Hagen was deported from Laayoune in southern Morocco to Mauritania. Police arrested the journalist who had travelled there to meet human rights activists and former political prisoners.
He was questioned by police for several hours about the reasons for his visit to the Sahara and was accused of working with the Polisario. He was expelled to Mauritania under escort by two police officers on a 26-hour bus ride. His passport was returned to him at the border. Knowing that journalists were not welcome in Western Sahara, he had said he was a tourist. "The authorities never even asked what permission I had during the questioning. It was because I was going to meet human rights activists, considered by police to be separatists and because my visit was a 'provocation' to the kingdom that I was expelled," Hagen told Reporters Without Borders.
French freelance journalist Catherine Graciet and French photographer Nadia Ferroukhi were expelled on 28 January 2004 when they arrived in Laayoune to meet human rights activists who back independence for Western Sahara. In the morning, before leaving Agadir, they had talked to students about the Western Sahara question. They were arrested a few hours later at a roadblock in Tarfaya and were questioned at length by security forces then taken back to Agadir and deported to France. The French Consul, who had asked to see them since they were French nationals, was unable to meet them.