Morocco: Blogger jailed for two years for criticizing the King

A Moroccan blogger who wrote an article criticising the King was sentenced to two years in jail after a startling short trial, report the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), International PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee (WiPC) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

On 8 September, the court of Agadir in southern Morocco condemned Mohammed Erraji to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 5,000 Moroccan dirhams (US$620) for “failure to uphold the respect due to the King”. His trial reportedly lasted 10 minutes. According to WiPC, Erraji is in poor health.

Erraji was arrested on 4 September following the publication on the online news site Hespress.com of an article accusing Morocco’s monarchy of encouraging a culture of dependency. He argued that the King’s custom of granting favours, such as taxi licences to a lucky few, encouraged people to rely on handouts. Read an English translation of the article on the Global Voices Online website: http://tinyurl.com/5lo2ol

“Erraji was given a summary trial for which he had no time to find a lawyer and was unable to defend himself,” says RSF. “The Moroccan blogosphere is known for being dynamic, so this is big step backwards for the kingdom.”

Erraji is the first Moroccan blogger to be prosecuted and convicted for an article posted online. He is Hespress.com’s Agadir correspondent and writes regularly for the site. He also has his own blog published under his real name, “The World of Mohammed Erraji”, that was started in March 2007 and
deals mainly with political and social issues.

A website and petition have been setup in solidarity with the blogger at:
http://www.helperraji.com as well as a Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=30771925854

In a separate case, newspaper editor Ahmed Reda Benchemsi, who is also facing charges of disrespect for the King, had his one-year case adjourned indefinitely last week.

Benchemsi told RSF, “The court was clearly trying to close the case without having to reach a verdict … I am supposed to see this decision as a conciliatory gesture. But the judge can call me back to court whenever he wants.”

Visit these links:
– ANHRI: http://www.anhri.net/en/reports/2008/pr0908.shtml
– RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=28449
– RSF on Benchemsi: http://tinyurl.com/6cwvfy
– WiPC (email): Cathy.McCann (@) internationalpen.org.uk
– Help Erraji website: http://www.helperraji.com
– Erraji’s blog: http://almassae.maktoobblog.com

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