How many indignant clerics does it take to change a light bulb? They can’t tell you in Morocco. A press release from Reporters Without Borders:
Reporters Without Borders said it firmly and utterly condemns a ban that has been slapped on the Arabic-language weekly “Nichane” and legal action launched against it for “damaging Islam”.
The paper carried a feature in its 9 to 15 December 2006 issue entitled, “Jokes: How Moroccans laugh at religion, sex and politics”. The Moroccan government banned the paper on 20 December and the king’s prosecutor at the Casablanca High Court ordered police to investigate the article.
The prosecutor’s office decided to take legal proceedings against editor Driss Ksikes and journalist Sanaa Al Aji for “damaging the Islamic religion” and “publication and distribution of articles contrary to morality”.
“In taking this double step, the Moroccan authorities remind anyone who might have forgotten that the judicial arsenal is always available to curb the free expression of Moroccan journalists,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
Despite promises and commitments made by Rabat in recent months, the “red lines” are still clearly there to constrain all journalist work, it said. Forbidden issues include the sacred status of the king, Islam as the state religion, Western Sahara, the army or morals. These bans are found as often in the 2002 press code as in the anti-terror law or the draft law on opinion polls, and always in terms vague enough to allow the widest interpretation. The same bans also appear in an ethical charter recently adopted by the federation of press editors.
Reporters Without Borders said it believed the steps taken were based on an electoral calculation in the run-up to polling which could be marked by a strong showing by the Islamist movement. The organisation said it feared that, far from calming the extremists, these measures could dangerously expose journalists with “Nichane”.
It urged the Moroccan authorities to reconsider the ban on the weekly and called on the Casablanca prosecutor’s office to withdraw its complaint for “damage to the Islamic religion” and “publication and distribution of articles contrary to morality”. It restates its solidarity with the newspaper and the journalists targeted by the ban and legal proceedings.