- Oct. 18, 2015
As a monarchy committed to democracy, Morocco has a favorable image as one of the most stable countries in North Africa and the Middle East. But that reputation is being threatened by a government campaign of intimidation against journalists and rights groups.
The monarchy of King Mohammed VI took welcome steps after the Arab Spring protests of 2011 to open Morocco to more democratic participation, including drafting a new constitution and holding parliamentary elections. Last month, local and regional elections were held successfully.
Sadly, against the backdrop of these democratic successes, the Moroccan government is targeting journalists who dare to report news it doesn’t like, with intimidation, harassment and jail sentences for vague crimes like defaming the state. In August , Samad Lach, a human-rights activist and a member of the Moroccan Association of Investigative Journalism, was put under a travel ban after being interrogated and charged with a barrage of supposed crimes, including “working for foreign agendas.” Where political charges fail, journalists’ personal lives have been targeted: In May, Hicham Mansouri, an investigative journalist, was sentenced to 10 months in prison for adultery in a case Human Rights Watch charged was politically motivated.
Civil society groups are also under attack. Last month, Maati Monjib, the president of the human rights group Freedom Now, and a professor at the University of Rabat, was barred from traveling to a conference in Norway after being charged with defamation, spreading false news and harming Morocco’s image. In protest, Mr. Monjib went on a hunger strike and was hospitalized after collapsing on Tuesday. He told Reuters it was “better to die than live in such injustice.” Karima Nadir, the vice president of the Moroccan Digital Rights Association, is facing charges of “false denunciations,” “depreciating the efforts of the state” and “insulting authorities” over a report by Privacy International on the chilling state of citizen surveillance in Morocco.
This concerted campaign against the regime’s critics does grievous harm to the country’s image. The government should stop harassing journalists and allow rights groups to do their work in accordance with Morocco’s Constitution and international standards. If it doesn’t, it will put all the progress it has made in the last four years at risk.