Washington, D.C. - The Moroccan government, led by Prime Minister (PM) Abdelilah Benkirane, is in state of denial when it comes to press freedom in the country. By refusing to address specific cases of journalists’ harassments and restrictions on freedom of association, the Justice and Development Party (PJD)’s government is not fulfilling its promises to its electorate and further damaging the image of Morocco already battered by recent negative reports.
Washington, D.C. – The Moroccan government, led by Prime Minister (PM) Abdelilah Benkirane, is in state of denial when it comes to press freedom in the country. By refusing to address specific cases of journalists’ harassments and restrictions on freedom of association, the Justice and Development Party (PJD)’s government is not fulfilling its promises to its electorate and further damaging the image of Morocco already battered by recent negative reports.
PM Benkirane’s recent criticism of international rights organization’s coverage of Morocco is misplaced and unwarranted. In fact, it reveals a level of misunderstanding on how these entities work and “rate” countries. Instead of criticizing Freedom House (FH) and Amnesty International (AI), the Moroccan government ought to answer the specific cases cited in these organizations’ reports.
As expected, the misguided decision to persecute Ali Anouzla, the editor of the Arabic edition of the website Lakome.com, in connection with the publication of an article that linked to an Al-Qaeda video, has been generating criticism and indignation in human rights circles.
The recent decision by “the authorities” to deny the newly formed Moroccan NGO, Freedom Now (FN), a permit to operate will once again shine a bad light on Morocco’s rights record. Several activists and independent journalists, including Anouzla, formed FN to defend freedom of expression in the country.
This official rejection substantiates AI and FH reports of “excessive restrictions on access to information” and will “be a clear breach of international guarantees of freedom of association.”
Mr. Mustapha Khalfi, Minister of Communications and Government Spokesman’s evasive answers regarding details of these cases are the most troubling aspect of the PJD government response to AI and FH reports. Mr. Khalfi, a former editor-in-chief of his party’s newspaper “Attajdid” and one time champion of press freedom before joining the government, should sympathize with Mr. Anouzla and support groups like “Freedom Now”.
Mr. Khalfi should explain to the Moroccan public and international organizations the reasons behind the persecution of Mr. Anouzla in a “criminal court” and the legal justification for the denial to grant Freedom Now the authorization to form. In avoiding answers and playing the “I don’t know” game, the PJD becomes accessory to these disproportionate interference with freedom of expression.
As the head of the government, PM Benkirane should communicate to the people the “organism” that makes the decisions to persecute journalists. It is a “legitimate public interest”. In a “rule of law” country, journalists should not be penalized for performing their job.
Failure to support independent journalism is a step backwards for Morocco and its government. It implies a lack of free press and gives the impression that the non-conformist editorial line will be restrained.
Moroccan journalists and human rights activists find Mr. Khalfi and PM Benkirane’s recent statements avoiding responsibility disappointing and disquieting. While there are notable rights improvements in the country, the targeting of the few “nonpartisan” journalists undermines the officials’ claims of press reforms.
Even though a PJD minister runs the Ministry of Justice, the government has little control over the judiciary. Therefore, the judicial decision regarding press freedom litigations are made outside the ministry in charge. Nevertheless, as Prime Minister, Mr. Benkirane should do his job in explaining the decision-making process that produce these harmful measures. Thus far, his government’s handling of these cases has been counterproductive.
Morocco came a long way in liberalizing media and relaxing press regulations; however, the cases of Anouzla and Freedom Now are troubling and undermine rights reforms in the Kingdom. While there is no a crackdown on freedom of speech in Morocco, these instances display the limits of freedom of speech and association.
The Moroccan authorities should drop all criminal and civil charges against Mr. Anouzla and grant Freedom Now the permit to operate legally and freely. Such decisions will enrich Morocco’s media landscape and revitalize the image of the Kingdom among international human rights organizations.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy
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