Morocco | Page 252 | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Morocco

Morocco

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

61

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

22

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

17

While Morocco's young independent press has been bold and aggressive in its coverage of issues once considered taboo, authorities have fought back zealously to punish journalists deemed enemies. Ostensibly, Moroccans are afforded freedom of expression by the constitution, but the Press Law, which was amended in 2002, defies that guarantee. It is illegal to criticize Islam, the king, and the royal family. It is also illegal to publish anything that challenges Morocco's "territorial integrity," which is an indirect reference to the Western Sahara, which Morocco has controlled for three decades. Those who violate the law are subject to heavy fines and lengthy prison sentences. The Antiterrorism Law passed after the 2003 Casablanca terror attacks also has serious implications for the press, as it contains broad language criminalizing the dissemination of material deemed to support terrorism. Several journalists have been prosecuted under this law.

In March 2005, Nabil Benabdallah, Morocco's minister of information, announced that the harsh press legislation used to harass and prosecute journalists would be amended to ensure that journalists were no longer imprisoned for press offenses. But at year's end, not only had the laws not been changed, but several journalists had been prosecuted under them. In April, independent journalist Ali Lmrabet, who has for years been a thorn in the side of Moroccan authorities, was sentenced by a criminal court to a 10-year ban on practicing journalism. The journalist had written an article published in the Spanish daily El Mundo in November 2004 that referred to the Sahrawi people in Tindouf, Algeria, as refugees (the Moroccan government holds the position that the Sahrawis of Tindouf are held against their will by the Polisario, the Western Sahara independence movement). The case was a glaring reminder that Morocco's judiciary does not operate independently and is subject to government pressure.

Other journalists who were prosecuted by authorities include Ahmed Benchemsi and Karim Boukhari, managing director and editor, respectively, of the independent French-language weekly Tel Quel. In August, Benchemsi and Boukhari were given two-month suspended prison sentences and ordered to pay damages of $110,000 to a member of parliament who sued the magazine for defamation. Two months later, a criminal court levied another heavy financial punishment against the magazine ($96,000) when it found Benchemsi, as director of the publication, guilty of defaming a Moroccan child relief agency after the magazine published a story about a police investigation into financial mismanagement at the agency. These heavy financial penalties, meant to put independent publications out of business, are the main economic means used by authorities to control the press.

Foreign journalists can work with relative freedom in Morocco, but authorities are as sensitive with the foreign press as they are with local journalists when it comes to covering the Western Sahara issue. Authorities accompany foreign reporters covering the Western Sahara, and over the years journalists who have reported from the region independently or angered authorities by interviewing people calling for the independence of the Western Sahara have been thrown out of the country. Though it is technically legal to establish private television or radio stations, there has been little movement to do so. Local broadcast media are overwhelmingly state owned and supportive of the government. Although the internet is not tightly monitored or controlled, its penetration in Morocco is low.