Morocco: Three-Year Sentence For Satirising Monarchy Could Be Increased
The Moroccan Court of Appeal will examine on Wednesday an appeal lodged by Ali Lmrabet's lawyer to revoke a four-month sentence he received on 21 November 2001. Lmrabet was convicted of 'disseminating false information which undermines public order or is likely to undermine it' after publishing an article in Demain Magazine on 20 October 2001. In addition to the prison sentence, he was fined 30,000 Moroccan dirhams (approximately 3,000 US dollars).
The article was entitled 'The royal palace of Skhirat reportedly 'for sale'' (Le palais royal de Skhirat serait en vente). It said that the newspaper had received information that a decision had been taken at the highest level in Morocco to sell the royal palace to foreign investors wanting to turn it into a tourist complex.
Lmrabet is editor-in-chief of two satirical independent newspapers, Demain Magazine and Doumane, and is currently on hunger strike in protest at his continued detention. He has expressed his determination to remain on hunger strike until he is released. Ali Lmrabet previously undertook a 47-day hunger strike in May last year in protest at his court case and imprisonment and had to be admitted to hospital.
Amnesty International said:
'Ali Lmrabet should never have been imprisoned. He is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released.'
Amnesty International urges the Moroccan authorities to either abolish or review all legislation which, in violation of international standards, stipulates prison sentences for the peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression.
Ali Lmrabet founded the French-language weekly Demain Magazine in early 2001. His previous, similarly named newspaper, Demain, was banned by the Moroccan authorities in December 2000 for 'undermining the stability of the state', following publication of an article alleging the implication of the political left in a 1972 coup attempt against the late King Hassan II. He is also a correspondent for the international press watchdog, Reporters sans frontiÃ¨res (Reporters without borders).
Ali Lmrabet is already serving a three-year prison sentence, handed down on appeal on 17 June 2003. He was convicted on charges of insulting Mohamed VI, 'undermining the monarchy' and 'threatening the integrity of the national territory' on the basis of several articles, cartoons and a photo-montage which had appeared in his newspapers. These included an article featuring extracts of an interview, already published in a Spanish newspaper, with a former Moroccan political prisoner advocating the right to self-determination for Sahrawis in Western Sahara; and a cartoon commenting on the parliamentary approval of the budget for the royal household. He was also fined 20,000 dirhams (approximately 2,000 US dollars) and a ban was imposed on his newspapers.
The monarchy and the status of Western Sahara are taboo subjects for public discussion. Several people, including journalists and political activists, have been imprisoned in recent months after peacefully expressing views on these issues. Western Sahara is a disputed territory claimed by both Morocco, which annexed it in 1975, and the Polisario Front, which calls for an independent state there and has set up a self-proclaimed government-in-exile in refugee camps near Tindouf, south-western Algeria.