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French paper probes Moroccan authorities’

BBC Monitoring

Text of report by French newspaper Liberation website on 8 August

[Report by Felix Julien: "Criticizing the King Remains a Taboo in Morocco"]

The person of King Muhammad VI remains a taboo subject in Morocco. For having forgot the fact, journalist Ahmed Benchemsi, editor of the magazines Nichane (in Arabic) and Tel Quel (in French,) will be appearing in court in August. Nichane was withdrawn from the newsstands Saturday, and Tel Quel did not leave the printing works. Following an interview lasting over 20 hours Monday, Ahmed Benchemsi was charged with "lack of due respect to the king." He risks five years' imprisonment.

Politeness - The journalist had just signed a dual editorial, in French and Arabic, in which he criticized King Mohammed VI's remarks in his latest speech. "In it, Ahmed discussed constitutional reform, criticized the concentration of powers at the summit of the state, and raised the issue of the real usefulness of general elections," Tel Quel journalist Driss Bennani explained. "But these topic! s have been broached many times by the independent press." It was apparently mainly the Arabic-language version of the editorial that caused trouble. Ahmed Benchemsi used Darika, the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, to address the king. It is a familiar and very direct form of language, with no polite formulas.

"There is complete inconsistency between the official line, which boasts about the progress in democracy, and the regular attacks suffered by the independent newspapers," according to Hajar Smouni, Reporters San Frontieres' Maghreb chief. In January a feature on Moroccan jokes about politics, sex, and religion already earned Nichane a two-month ban. The journalist behind the article and the chief editor at the time were given suspended prison sentences and heavily fined. A year earlier, another independent title, Le Journal Hebdomadaire, was fined 300,000 euros for defamation following a much criticized trial.

There have been increasing numbers of attacks on p! ress freedom in recent weeks. The editor and a journalist with Al-Wata n al-An, a weekly specializing in the disclosure of military scandals, are now appearing before a Casablanca court for having published confidential documents about the antiterrorist struggle, The editor of the daily Al-Ousbou is charged with "dishonestly propagating false information." According to Ahmed Benchemsi, "we are witnessing another wide-ranging offensive against the press conducted by the authorities, which seem extremely agitated."

Ali Amar, editor of Le Journal Hebdomadaire, shares this analysis. He accuses the government of "terrorizing the independent press' chain of production." "According to the press code, in the editor or chief editor's absence, the printer can be held responsible," he explained. "They are trying to introduce an additional level of censorship."

These pressures are giving rise to self-censorship. The commercial director of the Ideale print works, which publishes the titles headed by Ahmed Benchemsi and Le Journal Hebdomadaire, w! as summoned by police Sunday. Having gotten his hands burnt, he was apparently uncertain the next day whether to distribute Le Journal Hebdomadaire when he saw the front page - a 1940s photograph showing a young woman's breasts. "So he decided to send a copy of the magazine to the authorities for their authorization," Ali Amar said. "When he received to response, he ultimately decided to distribute it nevertheless Monday evening."

Reprint - For their part, journalists with Nichane and Tel Quel say that the two titles will be reprinted without the controversial editorial. "We have already lost almost 120,000 euros in this business," Driss Bennani said.

A month away from the 7 September general election, people are wondering about the real reason for these attacks. "The government hopes to make the independent newspapers toe the line," Ali Amar observed. "Above all, they do not want anyone to question the transparency of these elections or for any doubts about dem! ocracy to be expressed."

Source: Liberation we bsite, Paris, in French 8 Aug 07



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