The Moroccan government's blocking of the news website Lakome, after jailing its editor last fall on charges of terrorism, has prompted accusations that Rabat is using security concerns to justify a crackdown on independent media.
Ali Anouzla, a Moroccan journalist whose arrest last fall sparked an outcry among press freedom and human rights groups, says the Moroccan authorities have targeted him and Lakome for their independent editorial line and investigations of the state that have exposed corruption and other issues.
Mr. Anouzla spent 39 days last fall in jail after being charged with inciting terrorism after linking to a blog post on the Spanish newspaper El Pais's website that in turn linked to an Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb propaganda video. After a wave of support in and outside Morocco, Anouzla was released on bail, but the charges remain. Under Morocco’s anti-terrorism law, he faces up to 20 years in jail if convicted.
Anouzla rejects the charges, telling The Christian Science Monitor that he considers it his duty to inform Moroccans if their country is threatened and that he specified the video was propaganda in his article.
“Moroccan authorities have never liked Lakome’s editorial line, which they judge [to be] too critical,” he says. “What we are doing is just our job to inform and criticize without taking into account what other people consider as red lines.”
Yesterday, in a letter addressed to US Secretary of State John Kerry, who is currently visiting Morocco, Reporters Without Borders denounced the censorship of Lakome and the charges against Anouzla, saying they are a threat to the independent press and are merely an attempt to silence the two. This year, the organization ranked Morocco No. 136 in their press freedom index, out of a total of 180 countries.
Khadija Ryadi, coordinator of the Committee to Support Anouzla and winner of the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights last year, believes Anouzla has been targeted because he is one of the rare independent journalists in the country.
“His articles have an impact on public opinion and that’s what the state is afraid of,” she says.
Anouzla has written editorials about sensitive subjects like the Moroccan monarchy. Last summer, he broke what later became known as the Danielgate scandal: the release from Moroccan prison of a Spanish pedophile after a royal pardon. The decision was derided as bowing to Spanish pressure and prompted widespread protests calling for an independent judiciary.
While in prison, Anouzla asked that his website be temporarily suspended. Since his release, he has asked twice for the website be unblocked, to no avail. He says he was told to take the issue to court but argues there was no court decision in the first place to shut Lakome down.
In a phone interview with the Monitor, government spokesman and Communications Minister Mustapha El Khalfi denied that this was a case of censorship.
“The decision to close Lakome is not an administrative decision. It is not a decision of the executive power. It was made upon Anouzla’s request via his lawyer and according to a judiciary procedure,” he said. “In Morocco, there’s no censorship.”