Has the Moroccan government lost his sense of humour for good? | Catherine Cornet
Has the Moroccan government lost his sense of humour for good? Print
Catherine Cornet   
Has the Moroccan government lost his sense of humour for good? | Catherine Cornet Sad precedents
On December 18th, two court bailiffs visited the Casablanca-based “Journal Hebdomadaire” newspaper seeking payment of 3 million dirhams (270,000 euros) for damages caused by managing editor Aboubakr Jamai and one of his former journalists, Fahd Iraqi. The newspaper was originally ordered to pay the damages in April as a result of a libel suit brought by the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Centre (ESISC), a think-tank whith headquarters in Brussels. The newspaper had questioned the objectivity of a report they issued about the Polisario Front, which wants independence for Western Sahara.
The amount of the fine obviously stands for a death sentence for the newspaper. The “Journal Hebdomadaire” stands as one of Morocco’s most serious and independent weeklies . Its numerous reports are highly investigative and professional. We all remember the trial of Ali Lmrabet, Chief-editor of the satirical weekly “Doumane/Demain” who was banned from writing for 10 years.

The “Nichane Affair”
On January 21st, it was the turn of the Arabic.Language Weekly “Nichane”, a sister publication of the French-language “Tel Quel” magazine, to suffer a heavy sentence. Prime Minister Driss Jettou issued an order withdrawing the issue from news stands and banning further distribution. On the 8th of January, the prosecutor requested the newspaper’s indefinite closure and inflicted fines on the two journalists for up to 100,000 dirhams (8,950 euros), on charges of “damaging Islam” and “publishing and distributing writings contrary to morals and customs.”
The prosecution was brought over a feature in the newspaper’s 9-15 December issue entitled “Jokes: How Moroccans laugh at religion, sex and politics.” According to a press release issued by the weekly‘s journalists to sustain their Chief editor, the team was far from thinking that the feature would have created such a fuss. They did not intend to provoke anyone: “Collectively, the decision was taken to consider the most frequent jokes told by Moroccans (as do all the peoples of the world): those taking into account religion, sexuality and politics. We decided to publish some examples of jokes (and we selected the “softer” ones) that Moroccans tell everyday. The dossier was meant to analyse, through these jokes, the collective and culture behaviours of Moroccan society”.
Has the Moroccan government lost his sense of humour for good? | Catherine Cornet Reporters without borders, the international human rights organisation which closely follows the trial, assessed the prosecutor’s requests as an “insane indictment and we hope the court will not follow the archaic and ultra-repressive position being adopted by the prosecutor.” They added that “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 was also very 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 trial was adjourned until 15 January and a petition is on-line to sustain the newspaper: www.nichane.ma/communique/

These repeated attacks against independent press in Morocco on the charges of “damaging Islam” and “publishing and distributing writings contrary to morals and customs” could be read in the light of the 2007 parliamentary elections. It is no secret that the Islamic party, the Party of Justice and development (PJD) could win an important political victory in Morocco.

Catherine Cornet
(11/01/2007)