Morocco: Journalist sentenced in 'criminal defamation' case

Morocco: Journalist sentenced in 'criminal defamation' case
Analysis: The verdict is being seen as the latest chapter in a government crackdown on media outlets and a bid to silence critical journalism.
2 min read
08 July, 2015
Morocco has seen an increase in criminal defamation cases against journalists [AFP]
A Moroccan journalist was given a four-month suspended sentence for "criminal defamation" on 29 June, reported the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists.

Hamid el-Mehdaoui, editor of the independent news website Badil, was ordered, along with his source, Rabea al-Ablak, to pay a total of $10,290 in damages to Abdellatif el-Hammouchi, head of the general directorate of national security who filed the complaint.

This was the second time in a week a Moroccan court found a journalist guilty of defamation.

Previously, a Moroccan court ordered the privately owned news website Goud to pay $51,000 in damages to the Moroccan king's private secretary, Mounir El-Majidi, in a civil defamation case.
     We see a pattern in which the government targets the resources of media outlets to render them silent.

- Sherif Mansour, CPJ

"We see a pattern in which the government targets the resources of media outlets to render them silent and discourage critical journalism. We call on Moroccan authorities to put an end to this tactic," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Programme Coordinator Sherif Mansour.

Mehdaoui was charged after his website reported accusations of torture against the police made by the family of Karim Lachqar, a Moroccan activist who died in police custody in May 2014.

The general directorate of national security filed a complaint of criminal defamation against Mehdaoui with the prosecutor's office in July 2014.

Moroccan authorities issued a statement days after Lashqar died, denying responsibility for his death.

Mehdaoui's lawyers argued Badil had only reported conflicting claims about the activist's death, and had not said that police killed him.

The editor is also being tried for criminal defamation in the northern city of Meknes over reports about a car bombing in the city. The government argued his story was fabricated, with the Wali (king-appointed governor) of the Meknas-Tafilalet region registering a case against him in April 2015.

If convicted, Mehdaoui faces a ten-year ban from journalism, up to a year in prison, and a fine of up to 100,000 dirhams, reported Badil.

The journalist told CPJ at least two further court cases had been registered against him due to his critical journalism, and that he would appeal against his latest sentence.