Travel bans, prison and fines: Morocco's media under siege

Travel bans, prison and fines: Morocco's media under siege
Analysis: Academic Maati Monjib's travel ban for "endangering state security" is only the latest hassle in a long list faced by journalists in Morocco.
4 min read
19 October, 2015
Criticism of Morocco's king is strictly off-limits for the country's journalists [Getty]
Professor Maati Monjib is a noted historian at the University of Mohammed V in Rabat, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a political journalist, a human rights activist and, according to the Moroccan authorities, a threat to the Moroccan state.

The 55-year-old academic was reportedly informed he was "endangering state security" when the authorities prevented from travelling to Barcelona on 16 September.

The Moroccan Interior Ministry has since issued several contradictory statements about the travel ban. It first denied it, then later confirmed it, saying it was due to "financial violations" during Monjib's time as head of the Ibn Rushd Institute for investigative journalism.

They think Morocco is a powder keg and accuse us of lighting matches
- Maati Monjib
Sion Assidon, a member of Monjib's support committee, said this was not the reason for the travel ban.

"The case isn't financial, it's political," he said. "The authorities are annoyed at his positions and writings and are using illegal means to exert pressure on him."

He was hospitalised on Wednesday, after eight days of a hunger strike he started after being prevented from travelling to Norway to attend a seminar.

"A smear campaign and threats started against me in July 2013 after I gave a harsh interview on Morocco to al-Jazeera," Monjib told The New York Times before he was hospitalised.

The authorities, he added, were "concerned" by the critical statements he frequently made to the world's press.

He said the state felt threatened by journalists and activists, and feared they could become the nucleus of a future protest movement.

"They think Morocco is a powder keg and accuse us of lighting matches," he said.

Monjib closed the Ibn Rushd Institute last December after repeated interference from the authorities.

He is only the latest public figure to attract the unwelcome attention of the Moroccan authorities for criticising Islam, the monarchy or the Western Sahara - a territory Morocco occupied after Spain relinquished its control in 1975.

Freedom of speech under siege

Morocco ranks 130 of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2015 Index of Press Freedom.

Some journalists have suffered years of harassment at the hands of the Moroccan authorities.

Journalist Ali Lmrabet has been targeted by the Moroccan authorities on a number of occasions.

He was sentenced to four months in prison and given a $3,400 fine in 2001 for an article he wrote about the possibility of a royal palace being sold.

In 2003, he was sentenced to four years in prison when magazines he edited published extracts of an interview with a former political prisoner from the Western Sahara, and a cartoon about the royal household's budget, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said.

At the time, Amnesty International said it considered him a prisoner of conscience being punished for exercising his right to freedom of expression.

In 2005, Lmrabet was banned from working as a journalist for ten years.

They got to me as a warning to the others
- Hicham Mansouri
Ali Anouzla was held for five weeks on a terrorism-related charge in 2013 because he posted a link to a story from the Spanish daily El País website that included a video from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, RSF said.

The authorities also closed his website, Lakome.

Mahmoud al-Haissan, a journalist with the Polisario Front TV station, has been charged with participating in an "armed gathering", obstructing a public thoroughfare, attacking officials while they were on duty and damaging public property.

He was arrested for filming security forces' violent dispersal of peaceful pro-independence demonstrations in the Western Sahara capital, El Aaiun, during the football World Cup in Brazil in June 2014.

Hicham Mansouri was meanwhile sentenced to ten months in prison in March on the charge of adultery, which RSF described as "trumped-up".

"They got to me as a warning to the others," Mansouri said, speaking to The New York Times. "Moroccans should start getting concerned about what is happening in their country. The media is more repressed."

RSF said the proposed overhaul of the press and publishing code would abolish prison sentences for media offences, but said this was not enough to end the judicial harassment of journalists. The organisation also noted that the proposed bill needed to be actually passed into law.