Moroccan blogger jailed for peacefully expressing his views

On Monday 8 September, a Moroccan man became the first blogger to be sentenced to two years imprisonment. Mohamed Erraji was also fined 5,000 dirhams (US$625) for “lack of respect due to the King”. He is not the first Moroccan to be jailed for peacefully expressing his views on the monarchy, which is still a “taboo” subject in Morocco. On 11 September 2008, the defence’s request to provisionally release Mohamed Erraji was heeded by the Court of Appeals in Agadir. His appeal hearing is scheduled to take place on 16 September 2008. Mohamed Erraji’s conviction is reported to be related to an article he published on 3 September on Hespress, an independent Moroccan website. The article was entitled: “The King encourages the nation (to rely) on handouts”. The following day, he was summoned to the police station in the city of Agadir, where he lives, and questioned from 9am to 5pm. He was then asked to return to the police station on 5 September. He was kept in pre-arraignment detention and transferred to the Inzegaine prison on the night of 7 September. On 8 September, he was brought in front of the Court of First Instance in Agadir and convicted without the presence of a lawyer, reportedly on the grounds that he had admitted writing the article. His relatives were not informed of his detention. This was in breach of Moroccan law, which requires the police to notify relatives of detainees at the beginning of their detention. Although he was asked by the judge whether he had legal counsel, his family said that the speedy nature of the investigation and the trial effectively prevented him from seeking legal counsel. “Mohamed Erraji is in prison solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression and should be released immediately and unconditionally.” Amnesty International said. “Such abuse damages the image projected by the Moroccan authorities of a state where respect for human rights has greatly improved.” Mohamed Erraji, a 29 year old, has been commenting on social and political events in Morocco on his blog, which he describes as a space where he can freely express his thoughts. In recent years, several people, including journalists, political activists and human rights defenders have been prosecuted and sometimes sentenced to prison terms for peacefully expressing their views on the monarchy. The Moroccan Penal Code and Press Code contain provisions that carry sentences of up to five years imprisonment and heavy fines for any “offences” against the King, the royal family or for “undermining the monarchy”. Last year, eight members of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (Association Marocaine des Droits Humains, AMDH) were sentenced to prison terms of up to four years and fined for “undermining the monarchy”, after they had participated in May Day demonstrations during which slogans criticizing the monarchy were chanted. They were pardoned by the King in April this year. The trial of Ahmed Benchemsi, editor of the weekly magazines Nichane and Tel Quel,  charged in August 2007 with “undermining the monarchy” after he had published an editorial commenting on a speech by the King, was recently adjourned. “It is high time the Moroccan authorities reform laws which contravene the fundamental right to freedom of expression, enshrined in the Moroccan Constitution and in international law.” Amnesty International concluded. “As an immediate step, they should halt criminal proceedings against those who peacefully express their views and release those imprisoned solely on account of their opinions.”