Responding to the opening today of the trial of journalist Hanane Bakour who faces up to three years in prison and a fine after being accused of “publishing fake news by using electronic means that harm private life” for a Facebook post where she criticized the holding of a local election by the ruling party, Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa said:
“It is shocking, heavy-handed and absurd that a journalist faces criminal charges over a Facebook post that was critical of Morocco’s main political party. Hanane Bakour has a right to her opinions, even if politicians object to them.
“Morocco is increasingly showing its intolerance of criticism of the political system. These trumped-up charges against Hanane should be dismissed immediately and the case against her dropped.”
Hanane Bakour’s trial is expected to begin today at the Tribunal of First Instance in Sale, a city in the north of Morocco. The charges stem from a complaint from the ruling party the National Rally of Independents (RNI) in September 2021. Bakour had posted that the election of the new president of the party council in the region of Guelmim-Oued Noun, in the south of Morocco, was flawed because an RNI member had been critically wounded by a gunshot at his house. She is being tried while free.
Hanane Bakour has been a journalist for 17 years. She worked in several Moroccan outlets including Akhbar Al Youm, Al Massae and Al Jarida Al Oukhra. Until 2021, she was the editor-in-chief of the online website alyaoum24.com.
According to international standards, any limitation to the right to freedom of expression should be provided by a clear and precise law and be necessary and proportionate for the protection of a legitimate aim such as the protection of national security or of public order or of public health or morals. Broad and vaguely worded limitations on freedom of expression such as “fake news” do not meet the test. They limit, and sometimes criminalize, legitimate forms of expression that are protected by national and international human rights law.
Muzzling online and offline expression is part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent in Morocco. In 2022 alone, Moroccan authorities investigated, prosecuted and imprisoned at least seven journalists and activists for criticizing the government, as well as people who spoke online about religion or expressed solidarity with activists.