Investigative Journalist Youssef Jajili urgently needs the help of the international press and human rights organizations to keep Moroccan courts from sentencing him to time in a harsh prison and imposing hefty fines that could force the closure of his award-winning independent weekly publication, Alaan Magazine. Jajili, 29, has been charged with criminal defamation in response to his bold reports, which expose corruption and human rights abuses within the Moroccan government. Immediate action is required as his trial is set to start on Monday, January 28, 2013.
Jajili is the Editor-in-Chief of Alaan Magazine, a publication that courageously calls out Moroccan authorities for freedom of speech and human rights abuses. “The current charges against me are politicized and are being used to try to silence my journalism and my magazine,” Jajili says. “I am not a criminal. I am a journalist who has done nothing but fulfill my ultimate duty which is to serve as a watchdog on the government and expose corruption, truth.”
The criminal defamation charges stem from a June 2012 article Jajili published about Abdelkader Amara, a minister in the current Islamic government. Jajili reported Amara had ordered champagne to his hotel room while on a taxpayer-funded trip outside the country. The champagne charges were embarrassing to Amara because he had campaigned to ban alcohol sales in Morocco and because Islamic law forbids Muslims from drinking alcohol. Amara accused Jajili of fabricating the story, despite the fact that Jajili published a hotel bill which clearly showed charges for the alcoholic beverages under the official’s name.
This month, The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), The International Freedom of Expression Exchange network (IFEX) , and The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) all denounced the Moroccan government’s criminal defamation case against Jajili as an ‘intimidation’ tactic to silence the independent press. ”These defamation charges against Youssef Jajili should be dropped immediately,” said the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “Journalists should be able to serve as watchdogs of the government without fearing intimidation, detention, or prison time.”
Morocco has a damning history of using its courts to silence the independent press. Under Moroccan law, journalists can face up to one year in jail and fines of up to $12,000 USD if convicted on defamation charges. Morocco has also been accused of jailing bloggers for critical Facebook posts and cartoons, ordering advertisers to boycott publications causing media outlets to close due to lack of funds, and physically attacking journalists covering protests.
For more info. on Jajili’s case please contact:
French, Arabic: Youssef Jajili: Cell: 011212600042343, YoussefJajili@gmail.com , @youssefjajili
English: Amber Lyon: AmberLyonLive@gmail.com, @amberlyon
Coverage of Jajili’s case:
CPJ: Blogger faces criminal defamation charges in Morocco
IFEX: Editor charged with defamation in Morocco
ANHRI: Morocco: An Editor Accused of Slander due to Report
Timeline of Notable Attacks on Moroccan Journalists and Bloggers (Sources: CPJ, RSF)
- In January 2013, The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), The International Freedom of Expression Exchange network (IFEX) , and The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) all denounced the Moroccan government’s criminal defamation case against independent investigative journalist Youssef Jajili as an “intimidation” tactic to silence the independent press. The organizations also demanded Morocco drop the criminal defamation charges against Jajili and called on Morocco to reform current laws that allow for the criminal prosecution of journalists for defamation.
- Due to a difficult climate faced by journalists, Reporters Without Borders ranks Morocco 138th of 179 countries in the 2011/2012 World Press Freedom Index. Morocco fell that year from 135th- 138th due to the imprisonment of journalists.
- In 2012, Reporters Without Borders reports software of the Italian software firm ‘Hacking Team’ has supposedly been used by the government to spy on journalists in Morocco.
- In March 2012, 18-year-old student Walid Bahomane was sentenced to 18 months in prison on a charge of “attacking the nation’s sacred values” for posting content on Facebook making fun of the king. Reporters Without Borders stated it was “appalled” by the sentence.
- In 2011, according to CPJ, “Morocco’s King Mohamed VI pledged a series of constitutional reforms in March after a wave of popular uprisings passed through the kingdom. But the reforms did not extend to opening up the press. Authorities took concerted measures to suppress coverage of mass protests in Casablanca’s streets. During a March protest in the capital, Rabat, uniformed police assaulted several journalists covering its violent dispersal.”
- In 2011, According to Reporters Without Borders, Jajili’s former colleague, journalist Rachid Nini, the editor of the Moroccan daily Al-Massae, spent a year in prison after irritating the authorities by publishing stories about Moroccan intelligence chief Abdellatif Hammouchi. Nini was subjected to a trial in Casablanca that was marked by judicial intransigence, repeated adjournments, and a refusal to free him on bail.
- In 2011, Authorities arrested journalist Mohamed al-Dawas. Al-Dawas, who wrote for the blog Al-Fnidaq, was handed a 19-month prison sentence on drug trafficking charges and a fine of 20,000 dirhams (US$2,472) defense lawyer Abdel al-Sadiq al-Bushtawy told CPJ. Al-Bushtawy said his client denied the drug trafficking allegations, which the defense considered retaliation for al-Dawas’ writing, which was critical of the Moroccan authorities. Al-Fnidaq Online features the work of several journalists who write about local government corruption. A report by the French news outlet France 24 quoted several local journalists as saying they too believed the arrest to be retaliation for al-Dawas’ damning reports.
- In 2010, the Moroccan government was accused of ordering advertisers to boycott publications, forcing the closure two leading independent weeklies – the Arabic-language weekly Nichane and Le Journal Hebdomadaire. The CPJ stated, “The demise of the newsweekly, after several years of official harassment and court battles, appeared to signal the government’s now-entrenched repression of dissent.”
- In 2009, journalist Taoufik Bouachrine received a four-year suspended prison sentence after publishing a cartoon that depicted the wedding of Prince Moulay Ismail, King Mohammed VI’s cousin. The police shut downAkhbar al-Youm in September 2009 after the cartoon was published
- In 2009 Morocco used criminal defamation charges in an attempt to silence journalist Driss Chahtan. Chahtan, editor of the independent weekly Al-Michaal, was jailed in October 2009 on charges of “publishing false information” in articles that raised questions about the King’s health during a period when the monarch had not been seen in public.
- In 2008, blogger Mohamed Erraji, was sentenced to two years in prison for “failing to show respect for the king.” A Moroccan court convicted Erraji, 29, a contributor to HesPress, a Moroccan daily news website, in a closed 10-minute trial. On September 3, Erraji published an article on HesPress criticizing King Mohamed VI for rewarding people who praise him. He was arrested the next day and convicted the following day – without the benefit of a defense lawyer
- In 2007, the CPJ listed Morocco as one of 10 countries in the world where press freedom has most deteriorated. That year Morocco, often cited as a regional model for press freedom, became tied with Tunisia for the dubious distinction of sentencing the most journalists to prison in the Arab world.
- In 2005, independent journalist and former newspaper owner Ali Lmrabet was banned from practicing journalism for 10 years. The sentence came just 10 days before Lmrabet was expected to receive a license to publish a new satirical weekly, Demain Libere. CPJ says Lmrabet has been harassed repeatedly for his criticism of the Moroccan government.