Morocco: Blogger jailing condemned

Amnesty International has issued a call for the immediate and unconditional release of Mohamed Erraji, the 29-year-old blogger sentenced this week to two years imprisonment reportedly for “lack of respect due to the King”.

Erraji, who is believed to be the first blogger to be convicted in Morocco for peacefully expressing their views on the Internet, was apparently jailed in connection with an article he published on the independent Moroccan website Hespress on 3 September under the title “The King encourages the nation (to rely) on handouts”.

On his blog, which he describes as the space where he can freely express his thoughts and views, Mohamed Erraji regularly comments on social and political events in Morocco. Amnesty is highlighting his case on its new www.protectthehuman.com site, an online community and action site at the centre of the organisation’s online communications.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“Mohamed Erraji’s imprisonment is completely unacceptable and the Moroccan authorities should release him immediately.

“The effect of this disturbing development is likely to be that others in Morocco will be too scared to even voice their peaceful views online or anywhere else.”

The day after his article appeared on the Hespress website Erraji was summoned for questioning to the police station in the coastal city Agadir. He was reportedly questioned by around ten law enforcement officers from 9am to 5pm. He was then released and instructed to return to the police station the following day to complete the investigation.

According to the information received by Amnesty International, when he returned to the police station he was kept in pre-arraignment detention (garde à vue) and transferred to the Inzegaine prison on the night of 7 September. His family members were not informed of his detention, in breach of article 67 of the Moroccan Criminal Procedure Code, which requires judicial police to notify families of detainees at the beginning of their detention.

Erraji was brought in front of the Court of First Instance in Agadir on 8 September and convicted without the presence of a lawyer in what was reportedly a 10-minute process. While the judge asked whether he had a lawyer, his family claims that the trial’s speed and the failure to inform the family of his detention effectively prevented them from seeking legal counsel or other advice. At the hearing, Erraji’s admission of writing the article reportedly served as sufficient grounds for his conviction. Amnesty International is calling on the Moroccan authorities to act in conformity to article 9 of the Moroccan Constitution and to its obligations under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by respecting freedom of expression and releasing Mohamed Erraji immediately and unconditionally.

In recent years, several people, including journalists, political activists and human rights defenders, have been prosecuted and in some cases sentenced to prison terms, after peacefully expressing criticisms of the monarchy - still considered to be a “taboo” subject in Morocco.

In February this year Fouad Mourtada, a 26-year-old IT engineer, was sentenced to three years in prison after an unfair trial after he placed a profile of Moroccan Prince Moulay Rachid on Facebook. He was later pardoned after an international outcry.

Moroccan legislation contains a number of provisions in both the Penal Code and the Press Code that carry sentences of up to five years and heavy fines for any “offences” against the person of the King or his family or for “undermining the monarchy”. Amnesty International has repeatedly called on the Moroccan authorities to lift all impediments to freedom of expression.

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