Sounding off

Morocco doesn’t need this

An appeal court on 17 June upheld Ali Lmrabet’s prison sentence, while reducing it from four to three years (Editor’s note)

Slowly but surely, my brother Ali Lmrabet is in the process of dying on an iron cot in the prison section of Avicenne hospital in Rabat.

Ali is a journalist who edits two satirical weeklies, Demain Magazine and its Arabic-language version, Douman. He was convicted in a summary, 10-minute trial on 21 May of insulting the king and endangering Morocco’s territorial integrity and was sentenced to four years in prison. The court also banned his two weeklies and fined him 20,000 dirhams. He was taken from the courtroom to prison under article 400 of the criminal code, although his lawyers appealed against the verdict. This is without precedent in Morocco, especially for a journalist.

Ali has been on hunger strike since 6 May because he is the victim of injustice. In Salé prison, he was put in a cell with three common criminals, including two convicted murderers. His health deteriorated quickly in prison and on 26 May he was taken to the prison section of Avicenne hospital where doctors diagnosed a progressive gastric ulcer.

Ali is not a terrorist, bomber or murderer. His only weapon is his pen. His only crimes are his articles and his cartoons.

He is a true democrat, a citizen who loves his country, who wants to see it move ahead and take the road of wisdom, the road of democracy, rather than a great leap backwards with painful consequences.

Ali doesn’t call for revolution or anarchy or the regime’s overthrow. He just uses his writing and his caricatures to express the frustration felt by thousands of people who find themselves getting poorer, who find the road forward blocked. You won’t make things better in this country we all love by silencing the bearers of bad news but by taking account of the grievances of the thousands of people that were reflected in his writing.

I am not idealizing Ali, although he is my brother. But I do admire his courage and I believe he made the right choice in fighting for free expression in a more democratic Morocco. This is why he is hated by both the religious extremists and a conservative sector of the ruling establishment.

Ali proves that Morocco still has honourable people, proud people who love their country and are ready to do anything to see it take the road of modernity and true democracy, and become a society in which its children will be happy to live and not be driven to attempt the uncertain and hazardous crossing of the straits of Gibraltar in a flimsy boat in search of an unlikely El Dorado, or go down the paths of despair and religious obscurantism.

Morocco doesn’t need a new martyr, it needs a really free press, which is the most peaceful way for the demands of thousands of people to find expression.

Hassan Lmrabet

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