Less than a year ago, Global Voices noted Morocco as the “liveliest free speech zone in Muslim North Africa.” It would not be a stretch to say that Morocco ranks among the best for free speech in the entire Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region.
And yet, journalists are all too frequently fined or arrested, and yesterday a blogger, Mohammed Raji, joined their ranks. The blogger was arrested yesterday afternoon for insulting the king, and was immediately tried and sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of MAD 5,000 (about $625). The Moroccan blogosphere, lively as ever, has rallied around Raji.
A Moro in America, whose blog was among the first to report the story, offers a critique of Morocco's hypocritical handling of the press and bloggers:
Apparently the Moroccan Internet Police, which apparently is doing a great job following up on the Moroccan blogosphere, is not fully aware of the scale of media echo arresting a blogger can generate. That’s either because they work for their superiors who belong to the pen-and-paper era, and still see the Internet as nothing but a virtual world, or they are blinded by their fervor and ambition to receive reward for making such “a big bust.”
They don’t realize that they unintentionally propel Morocco to the list of top violators of freedom of speech on the net.
Even worse, it reveals a pattern of mishandling of the issue of Moroccans expressing their opinions online. It started with blocking access to video-sharing website YouTube and Google Earth, the arrest of the so-called fake Facebook prince, Fuad Mourtada, and now with sentencing Blogger Raji to two years in prison. Most probably this case will end with the same scenario as it did with Fuad Mourtada. The police made the arrest. The news made it all over the world, tarnishing the image of modern Morocco in full democratic transition, and then the suspect gets a royal pardon on the Eid’s eve. It’s called self-inflicted negative publicity that Morocco ends up getting from such high-profile cases.
The Moroccan judiciary and the Internet Police still involve Moroccan in big profile arrests of opinion.
Author and blogger Laila Lalami makes a necessary point:
The arrest marks the first time anyone has been arrested for a blog post in Morocco, and, given the Moroccan government’s touchiness, I can guarantee it is not the last time. But I would like to make one small point: Erraji’s criticism is quite mild compared with what one can read in such French-language Moroccan magazines as Tel Quel or Le Journal. But these publications enjoy the support of many international groups (such as Reporters Without Borders) and so the government often has to think twice before arresting one of their journalists or editors. But because Erraji writes in Arabic, and because he writes for Hespress, a website whose quality is quite questionable (it’s very populist and sometimes inaccurate), and because he is not part of the connected elite, his right to freedom of expression has simply been denied and his case has been even more bungled than usual.
A website has been set up to defend Erraji: Help Erraji. I wish there was also a website to help Morocco get a clue on press freedom.
Citoyen Hmida, remarking on the case [fr], says:
Où est le mal dans tout celà?
Dans l'introduction du billet, peut-être qui reprendrait une anecdote dont un quotidien aurait déjà fait l'écho!
Y a-t-il matière à délit? Y a-t-il matière à action publique?
Y a-t-il matière à remettre en cause un équilibre fragile entre la liberté de parole et la volonté de certaines institutions de défendre la monarchie que personne ne remet en cause?
Espérons que toute cette histoire n'est qu'un vaste malentendu!
Au delà de la personne de Mohamed Erraji et des idées qu'il peut exprimer, le MAROC n'a pas besoin d'une nouvelle fausse affaire.
Des problèmes bien plus sérieux nous attendent….
Where is the harm in all this?
In the introduction to the article, maybe he should have incorporated an anecdote which a newspaper has already repeated!
Can the crime be substantiated? Is there cause to take public action?
Is it justified to challenge a delicate balance between freedom of speech and the desire of certain institutions to defend the monarchy that nobody questions?
Let us hope that this whole story is a vast misunderstanding!
Beyond Mohamed Erraji and the ideas he has expressed, MOROCCO did not need a new trumped up case.
Far more serious problems lie ahead….
Finally, Ibn Kafka has compiled a comprehensive list [fr] of bloggers discussing Raji's case, as well as links to various articles about Morocco's press freedom (or lack thereof). He also notes that, technically, Raji got off easy:
…On notera cependant que Mohammed Erraji a bénéficié de la mansuétude légendaire de la justice marocaine, puisqu'il n'a été condamné qu'à deux années d'emprisonnement, alors que le minimum encouru pour cette infraction est trois ans et le maximum cinq ans. Cela signifie en théorie – en pratique les juges font ce qu'il leur chante – que des circonstances atténuantes lui ont été accordées – lesquelles?
…It should be noted, however, that Mohammed Erraji has benefited from the legendary leniency of Moroccan justice, and has since been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, whereas the minimum incurred for this offense is three years, maximum five years. This means that in theory (in practice, judges practice what they preach), extenuating circumstances were taken into account – but which ones?