The hopes raised when Mohamed VI became king in 1999 have slowly disappeared and the country’s journalists face prosecution that severely affects their work, even though taboo subjects are now fewer.
The future of Western Sahara is more openly discussed, and the rise of Islamism and (thanks to public hearings of the equity and reconciliation commission set up in 2004) past human rights violations by the authorities frequently make headlines. The boldest journalists investigate the role of the king and the royal family in running the country but this is the main reason journalists are prosecuted. The press law has a score of offences carrying prison sentences and journalists often have to pay very heavy fines and damages for offending the king, the monarchy, the nation, territorial integrity, God or Islam.
Apart from the release on 29 January 2006 of editor Anas Tadili, of the weekly Akhbar al-Ousbouaâ, after 22 months in prison, press freedom had a very bad year. The Arab-language weekly Nishan was shut down on 21 December for “undermining Islam” and censorship, harassment and legal action against the independent media continued throughout the year. Foreign journalists reporting on human rights were barred on 24 October from going to Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara.
Two French-language publications were especially targeted by politically-inspired legal action. The Casablanca appeal court ordered the weekly TelQuel on 7 February to pay libel damages of 500,000 dirhams (€50,000) to the head of a community association. A few days later Abubakr Jamai, managing editor of Le Journal Hebdomadaire, and journalist Fahd Iraqi were ordered to pay 3.1 million dirhams (€284,000) in damages for libelling the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center (ESISC) in an article criticising the impartiality of an ESISC study of the Western Sahara Polisario Front independence movement.
Two days before the verdict in the ESISC case, demonstrations (probably government-organised) were staged in front of the paper’s offices after malicious rumours spread that the paper had reprinted the cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed that first appeared in the Danish press in September 2005.
Security forces several times banned journalists from covering demonstrations or trials. Jamal Wahbi, of the weekly Assahifa al-Maghribiya, was arrested by detectives in Tetuan (300 km north of Rabat) on 7 November for photographing three prisoners who were suspected terrorists coming out of a court building in the city. He was questioned by the public prosecutor and various state security officials and his camera seized.
The correspondent of the pan-Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera, Hassan Fatih, was physically attacked by police while covering a sit-in by the families of political prisoners in Rabat on 15 June. He was taken to hospital with neck and shoulder injuries.
Morocco blocks access to websites close to the Polisario Front and to the online publication of the Islamist organisation Justice and Charity, which challenges the monarchy’s legitimacy.