Morocco: Journalists risk imprisonment for running smartphone app training

Tomorrow’s trial of seven journalists and activists in Morocco for training citizen journalists could set a dangerous precedent for restricting freedom of expression, Amnesty International said.

Seven defendants face trial in Rabat after running a citizen journalism training programme using smartphones.

“The trial of these journalists is a worrying test case for press freedom in Morocco. The accusations that journalists and citizens reporting freely in their country are compromising state security, and the risk that they may be imprisoned, are deeply alarming,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Interim Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

The accusations that journalists and citizens reporting freely in their country are compromising state security, and the risk that they may be imprisoned, are deeply alarming
Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International

Five of the defendants, including historian Maati Monjib, are accused of “threatening the internal security of the state” through “propaganda” that may threaten “the loyalty that citizens owe to the State and institutions of the Moroccan people” under Article 206 of the Penal Code, according to official court papers. They could be imprisoned for up to five years if found guilty.

Maati Monjib also faces a second charge of “fraud”. The remaining two defendants, journalists Maria Moukrim and Rachid Tarik are being tried for “receiving foreign funding without notifying the General Secretariat of the government.”

Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to drop the charges against the seven defendants.

In recent months the Moroccan government has trumpeted high-profile judicial reforms including an overhaul of the Penal Code. The draft law to amend the Penal Code, approved by the government on 9 June, includes some positive proposals for human rights but leaves unchanged Article 206, which is used to violate freedom of expression, highlighting that deep flaws in the code persist.

“Morocco’s authorities should drop these shocking charges against these seven journalists and activists immediately. They should repeal or amend Article 206, so that it can no longer be used to arbitrarily restrict freedom of expression,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

StoryMaker is a secure storytelling app developed by Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Guardian Project and Small World News, which enables citizen journalists to publish content anonymously if they wish to. FPU recently reported that its request to meet the Moroccan authorities to explain its work and the StoryMaker app was left unanswered. FPU is calling on Moroccan authorities to drop charges against the seven defendants and not put freedom of expression on trial.

Background

The defendants in the trial are:

Maati Monjib, 54 historian and founder of the Ibn Rochd Center for Studies and Communication, president of the NGO Freedom Now (which he set up jointly with Ali Anouzla) and a member of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI). A regular commentator on Moroccan politics in international media, think tanks and academic forums, he is thought to be a key figure targeted in this prosecution.

Abdessamad Ait Aicha (known as Samad Iach), 31, journalist and former employee at the Ibn Rochd Center for Studies and Communication, and AMJI member.

Hicham Mansouri, 35, journalist and former AMJI employee, recently released from prison after serving a 10-month sentence in what Amnesty International fears was a politically-motivated conviction.

Hicham Khreibchi (known as Hicham Al-Miraat), 39, medical doctor, founder and former president of the Digital Rights Association (ADN), as well as former advocacy director for Global Voices.

Mohamed Sber, 44, president of the Moroccan Association for the Education of Youth (AMEJ).

Maria Moukrim, 39, journalist, former AMJI president.

Rachid Tarik, 62, journalist (retired), AMJI president.

Several defendants are also former supporters or members of the 20 February Movement, Morocco’s peaceful pro-democracy and anti-corruption protest movement that emerged in 2011 in the context of popular uprisings in the region.