Morocco World News
Fez, November 4, 2011
A journalist should be able to express opinions, including criticism of government, and write about issues of national concern without constraint. Freedom of press has always been a heated topic in the Arab world. In Morocco, the arrest of the executive editor of the Al Massae newspaper, Rashid Nini, received a lot of attention. Nini has been an outspoken critic of many government policies, and has written extensively about corruption among government officials. This past summer, Nini was arrested and fined one 1,000 Dirhams (120 US dollars). He is expected to serve up to a year in prison.
Rashid Nini’s arrest distressed many activists, organizations, and citizens of Morocco who believed in the power of his pen.
The election of the Party of Justice and Development, a party supported by Morocco’s youth and middle class, offers hope that Rachid Nini will be set free. In a televised interview, the leader of the PJD, Abdelilah Benkirae, stated that Nini’s arrest was unwarranted and he should be released to rejoin his family. Benkirane also stated he would request amnesty for Nini when meeting with the king.
Mohammed Sebbar, the General Secretary of the National Council for Human Rights, has said that he will submit a proposal for Nini’s release, including a provisional release while his trial continues. In a meeting with the National Moroccan Press Syndicate last Tuesday, Sebbar explained that the Council’s efforts on Nini’s behalf have so far received little government response. Sebbar added: “the topic [of Nini’s arrest] is sensitive but we shall continue to knock on the door for two reasons: the recent government changes in Morocco offer hope, and the trial is not yet complete.”
Sebbar has twice visited Nini at Oukasha prison in Casablanca to express his solidarity with the imprisoned journalist. Sebbar finds fault with Moroccan press for not doing more—he proposed choosing a day to run a blank page in the country’s newspapers as a symbol of their colleague’s silenced voice. By contrast with journalists, many political figures, artists, and athletes have offered their support for Nini.
At the Tuesday meeting, Sebbar stressed the need for continued vigilance in defending freedom of expression in Morocco. “With the formation of a new parliament and with the values of the PJD taking precedence, progress can be achieved to launch a law of journalism,” said Sebbar.
It remains unclear whether the new head of government will have the courage to stay true to his principles and release Rachid Nini, and so send an emphatic signal of a new vibrant Moroccan democracy, that is unafraid to break from the abuses of the past.
Edited by Jasmine Davey