A “There is No Fun in Islam” Update. More information on the sentences faced by a magazine editor and writer in “moderate” Morocco, as well as a sample of the “offending” matter in the publication. “Moroccan Editor Faces Five Years in Prison for Insulting Islam,” by Caroline Alexander for Bloomberg:
Jan. 10 (Bloomberg) — A magazine editor in Morocco who published jokes about sex and religion faces up to five years in prison on charges of damaging public morality and Islam, in the latest case to test the freedom of the press in the country.
“I don’t understand why we are being prosecuted for publishing stories that Moroccan people tell,” Driss Ksikes, of the Arabic-language weekly Nichane, said in a telephone interview from Casablanca where he’s being tried alongside his colleague Sanaa Al
-Aji. “It’s an absurd affair.”
The state prosecutor is also requesting the magazine’s permanent closure, a 100,000 Dirham ($12,000) fine, and seeks to ban the accused from practicing journalism. The trial began Jan. 8 and was adjourned until Jan. 15.
King Mohammed VI, who is “inviolable and sacred” according to the constitution, has taken steps to modernize Morocco since becoming monarch in 1999 and media reform has been part of that process. The trial of Nichane and at least five other weeklies
in the past two years risks taking the country back to the dark ages, Reporters Without Borders said.
Ksikes was charged under the Moroccan press law, which includes terms of imprisonment for anything that “undermines” the monarchy and Islam or questions Morocco’s territorial integrity, a reference to its claim over the Western Sahara, which it annexed in
1975. “Insulting” the King, foreign heads of state or diplomats are also offenses.
The jokes Nichane published were part of a Dec. 9-15 feature entitled “How Moroccans laugh at religion, sex and politics.” It was an analytical, ten-page piece, structured around themes and illustrated with jokes, according to Ksikes.
He said there was no comparison to be made with the uproar caused last year by the publication and distribution of images depicting Mohammad. “Cartoons are the productions of artists and editors who have their own ideas and ways of thinking,” he said. “We were just trying to reflect what was already there.”
In one joke translated from Moroccan dialect, a companion of the Prophet arrives in purgatory and learns he’s being sent to hell. Alarmed, he goes from angel to angel and asks each one if what he was told is true, and they all say yes. So, he runs to
God and asks him what his fate will be, then hears someone say “smile, you are on ‘Candid Camera.'”
Fundamentalists complained about the issue and that joke in particular on Web sites, describing Ksikes as an apostate, or someone who has left Islam. Prime Minister Driss Jettou On Dec. 20 ordered it to be withdrawn from news stands and banned further distribution. Casablanca’s High Court then asked police to begin an investigation.
The steps taken against Nichane, whose title means “Morocco As It Is,” were politically motivated, with the government eager to prove its religious credentials before September parliamentary elections in which opposition Islamist parties may make strong gains, Reporters Without Borders said. Far from calming the extremists “these measures could dangerously expose journalists,” the New York-based group said.
The prosecution told judges attacking religion is one of the most serious offenses a journalist can commit. Ksikes said he believed Moroccans have a sense of humor, and that the jokes were widely told. He denied ridiculing religion and has apologized to
those who may have been offended.
“Even though things have gotten better in Morocco, officials don’t know how to balance pressure and freedom of the press,” Ksikes said. “I had some illusions, and maybe I am losing some of them.”