Monday, January 08, 2007

Morocco loses the plot over Nichane trial.

Nichane Editor-in-Chief Driss Ksikes (left) and journalist Sanaa al-Aji (right) at the trial.

According to our readers, instead of grasping the opportunity to stand up to the Islamists, Moroccan authorities are continuing to fumble the Nichane issue. The weekly is being sued following its article: "Jokes: How Moroccans laugh at religion, sex and politics?" and which includes expressions supposedly prejudicial to the Islamic religion.

One of our readers, Hamid, has his say:

Press reform - what press reform?
The opening of the trial in Casablanca would have been a perfect opportunity to announce the dropping of charges, or at least simply issuing a reprimand to the magazine. But instead, seemingly intent on flying in the face of commonsense, public opinion and the world media condemnation, the Prosecutor General requested a permanent ban of Nichane and on its journalist and editor.
It seems sad, but true that when it comes to press freedom, we Moroccans just don't get it. On this issue, Morocco has lost the plot. On one hand the media reforms are trumpeted loud and clear and are generally a welcome step. However, at the first testing of the reforms, the government bends to the Islamist camp.

In an outrageous step, the Prosecutor General also called for condemning the publication director Driss Ksikes and journalist Sanaa Al Aji on charges of "damaging the Islamic religion and publishing of writings contrary to morals and ethics," requesting to ban the two journalists from practicing journalism.

Hopefully someone will take the Prosecutor General aside and have a quiet word in his ear, pointing out that we now live in 2007, not 1947.

The First instance Court of Casablanca will pronounce the judgment on the case on January 15 - let us all pray that the authorities come to their senses by then.

Hamid - Rabat 2007

Reaction from around the world.

Prosecutor’s request for prison terms and closure of newspaper called “insane and archaic”

Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay at the sentences of three to five years in prison and bans on working as journalists that the state prosecutor requested today in Casablanca at the start of the trial of Driss Ksikes, editor of the Arabic-language weekly Nichane, and one of his journalists, Sanaa Elaji, on charges of “damaging Islam” and “publishing and distributing writings contrary to morals and customs.”

The prosecutor also requested the newspaper’s indefinite closure and fines for the two journalists that could be as much as 100,000 dirhams (8,950 euros). The trial was adjourned until 15 January.

“We are shocked by this insane indictment and we hope the court will not follow the archaic and ultra-repressive position being adopted by the prosecutor,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The Moroccan courts already took a medieval decision by banning journalist Ali Lmrabet from writing for 10 years and we dare not believe this will be repeated with Nichane.”

The press freedom organisation added: “There is clearly a gulf between official talk of a modern and democratic Morocco and the reality that journalists must face, a reality marked by summary trials and heavy sentences that rein in the independent press a bit more every day.”

Ksikes told Reporters Without Borders he was surprised by the severity of the sentences requested by the prosecutor. “We are being tried under the press law, but the prosecutor requested a ban on our working, which is only envisaged under criminal law,” he said.

The prosecution has been brought over a feature in the newspaper’s 9-15 December issue entitled “Jokes: How Moroccans laugh at religion, sex and politics.” It prompted Prime Minister Driss Jettou to issue an order on 21 December withdrawing the issue from news stands and banning further distribution.

The International Press Institute calls on the European Union to take action.
"Freedom of opinion and freedom of expression in Morocco are guaranteed under Article 9 of the constitution."
IPI views the action taken against Nichane and its editor and journalist as a severe violation of press freedom. We strongly believe that the threat of imprisonment is never justified in retaliation for the dissemination of news and information or for expressions of opinion, no matter how unsettling or offensive they may seem to those involved.

IPI would like to draw your attention to the fact that freedom of opinion and freedom of expression in Morocco are guaranteed under Article 9 of the constitution. Moreover, based on customary international law, freedom of expression is applicable not only to information or ideas that are "favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population," as established in the persuasive case of Handyside v. UK (1976) before the European Court of Human Rights.

The Moroccan government’s decision to disregard these internationally accepted standards and to proceed with criminal convictions of journalists can only lead to self censorship among members of the media who will fear persecution for practicing their profession. Furthermore, the ban on Nichane compromises the free flow of information within Morocco and denies citizens the opportunity to make independent decisions regarding the material they choose to read.

IPI calls on the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the Maghreb Countries and the Arab Maghreb Union to use the full power of your influence to call for the charges against Ksikes and Al-Aji to be dropped and for the reversal of the publishing ban issued against the Nichane magazine.

In other reactions, the online Magharebia Magazine points out that the editor, Driss Ksikes (pictured left), and Sanaa Al Aji, face severe punishment if convicted: The two journalists could receive sentences of up to five years in prison. The magazine was closed and the journalists publicly apologised for the story, trying to explain their article was an attempt "to analyse Moroccan society through its jokes". The International Federation of Journalists and Reporters without Borders has criticised the decision of the Moroccan authorities to prosecute the journalists, insisting that the case is a threat to press freedom in the country


1 comment:

Jillian said...

Excellent coverage of this thus far - thanks!