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Spain21 July 2004

Supreme Court dismisses daily’s appeal against insulting former King of Morocco

The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by José Luís Gutíerrez former editor of Diario 16, since closed, and journalist Rosa María López, convicted of insulting the former King of Morocco, Hassan II.

The 24 June 2004 decision "conflicts with the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that rightly considers that foreign heads of state should not enjoy unreasonable protection in a democratic system," said Reporters Without Borders.

The journalists were charged in connection with an article that appeared on 18 December 1995 about a find of five tonnes of hashish in the port of Algeciras aboard a lorry of the Dominios Reales line, owned by the Moroccan royal family.

The court accepted the truth of the report carried by the daily but ruled that the headline, "Family business of Hassan II implicated in drug-trafficking" harmed the king’s reputation, privacy and image.

In 1997 and 1999, José Luís Gutíerrez and Rosa María López were sentenced to pay damages in an as yet undecided amount and ordered to publish the ruling.

"At a time when France has finally decided to repeal the charge of insulting a foreign head of state, for which it had been condemned by the ECHR, it appears to us a particularly retrograde step for press freedom in Spain," said the international press freedom organisation. It is all the more unfavourable to the freedom to inform the public since the judges recognised the truth of the news the paper reported."

The ECHR on 25 June 2002 condemned France for violating Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights relating to free expression and the right to inform the public. The daily Le Monde took its case to the Strasbourg court after it lost two appeals in March 1997 in a case of "insulting" the King of Morocco under Article 36 of the 1881 press law on insulting foreign heads of state.

France repealed this article on 11 February 2004 under the so-called Perben II law.

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