February 22, 2012
H.M. King Mohamed VI
c/o Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco
1601 Twenty First Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 265.0161
Over the last several years, you have punished journalists for writing about your health and in one case, publishing an offending cartoon about the wedding of a relative. So perhaps, we at the Overseas Press Club of America, along with journalistic organizations around the world, should not be entirely surprised that your government sent an 18-year-old juvenile to jail for a Facebook post that offended you.
Maybe, we should not be surprised either that you have sentenced to jail a 25-year-old for uploading a satire of you to You Tube. But while there is precedent for your sensitivity to criticism in print; until recently, Morocco has had a reputation for fairly free exchanges on the Internet, the mark of an enlightened leader.
According to international media and Internet freedom groups, Walid Bahomane, 18, is being held for “defaming Morocco’s sacred values” with a satirical Facebook post. We understand also that 25-year-old Abdelsamad Haydour has been jailed in the city of Taza for a You Tube video that gave you offense. These actions are depressing and reactionary.
Your government seems to be reviving the bad old days of 2009 when you prosecuted three journalists for “criminal defamation” for writing about your health. Since then, it has seemed that Morocco had modernized. You permitted those three journalists to be released after brief incarcerations. In one case, a year-long sentence was suspended.
Then, after massive national protests last year coinciding with the Arab Spring uprisings, your government amended your Constitution to guarantee significantly more freedom of speech. Defaming the monarchy can still be a criminal offense, but in practice, is a You Tube satire of you so damaging as to be criminal? If so, that suggests your leadership may be more fragile than the world realizes.
We urge you to halt this descent down the road to repression and suggest that instead, you re-affirm your constitutional values. That includes dropping the charges against the juvenile Bahomane, freeing Haydour and recognizing that prosecuting journalists will in no way seal off your regime from the openness of the Internet. All it will do is call world-wide attention to weakness.
Robert Dowling Larry Martz
Freedom of the Press Committee