The International Press Institute (IPI) today joined with 11 other free expression and human rights defenders in urging Moroccan authorities to end the years of judicial harassment journalist Ali Anouzla has faced by finally and fully dismissing spurious terrorism charges against him, and by allowing him the freedom to practice independent journalism unhindered.
Anouzla faces 10 to 30 years in prison on charges that he supported terrorists by posting an article on the now-banned news website Lakome that contained a link to an article by Spain’s El País about a video posted online by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
However, supporters believe that the charges against the journalist, who now works as editor-in-chief of the Arabic edition of new website Lakome2, were really brought in retaliation for his exposure of a 2013 scandal in which Morocco’s king, as a gesture of friendship toward Spain’s king, pardoned a Spanish serial child rapist who had served 18 months of a 30-year sentence.
Anouzla has faced ongoing proceedings against him ever since that time, and IPI and the other groups today called on Morocco to let Anouzla go free “once and for all”, and to “let critical, independent journalism in Morocco thrive”.
The full text of the statement appears below.
Drop All Charges Against Moroccan Journalist Ali Anouzla – Let Him Go Free, Once and For All
Human rights and freedom of expression groups are calling on the Moroccan authorities to drop all charges against Ali Anouzla and to end their judicial pursuit of him and his news publication.
Over two years on from his initial arrest, detention and subsequent release, independent journalist and editor-in-chief of the Arabic edition of news website Lakome2 (and its blocked predecessor Lakome) Ali Anouzla has begun another year facing the same accusations that the Moroccan authorities have relentlessly pursued against him since September 2013.
The original terrorism-related charges against Anouzla reportedly still stand – as does the very real risk of him spending anywhere between 10 and 30 years in jail.
We, the undersigned organisations, are dismayed by the potential of once again seeing Ali Anouzla before a court of law defending himself against the same baseless and unsubstantiated claims that the Moroccan authorities tried to charge him with over two years ago. We repeat loud and clear that these charges remain unfounded under international law, and amount to a violation of his freedom of expression and his right to inform the public.
Anouzla was arrested on 17 September 2013 for publishing an article on the original Lakome website that contained a link to an El País article about a video posted by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). On 24 September 2013, he was indicted by the investigating judge at the Rabat Court of Appeals for allegedly providing “material assistance” to a terrorist group, “defending terrorism” and “inciting the execution of terrorist acts” (on the basis of the anti-terrorist law 03-03 of 28 May 2003).
He spent five weeks in “preventative detention” before being released on bail on 25 October 2013.
On 17 October 2013, while still in jail, both the Arabic and French-language versions of Lakome were blocked. After Anouzla’s conditional release, repeated requests to the National Agency for Telecommunications Regulation (ANRT) and the prosecutor’s office to unblock the news sites were met with no reply. To this day, the sites remain inaccessible from inside Morocco.
Throughout 2014 and 2015, Anouzla faced the prospect of appearing before various investigating judges accused of the same terrorism-related charges that continue to dog him, only to repeatedly have his hearings postponed. As a result his case, and the threat of losing his liberty, have been deliberately prolonged.
As one of the most respected Arab journalists in the region, Ali Anouzla is known for his commitment to promoting independent newspapers as well as his steadfast dedication to press freedom, including a bold editorial stance that does not hesitate to cross red lines and criticise the authorities, including King Mohammed VI.
His publications are renowned for their unequivocally pro-democracy editorial line that translates into a critical yet fair treatment of the real power holders in Morocco. This has allowed Lakome, and now Lakome2, to attract a relatively large audience as well as high profile, quality contributors.
Many human rights observers inside Morocco, as well as internationally, believe Anouzla’s on-going harassment by the judicial authorities is retaliation for Lakome’s revelation of the ‘Daniel scandal’, in which the Moroccan King was found to have pardoned, as a gesture of friendship between him and his Spanish counterpart, King Juan Carlos, a Spanish serial child rapist sentenced to 30 years in prison – of which he spent only a year and a half behind bars.
The scandal led to a wave of demonstrations against the Moroccan monarch in early August 2013, and spurred unprecedented solidarity among local, regional and international human rights groups.
After the launch of Lakome2 in August 2015, Anouzla was summoned once again to appear before an investigative judge on 26 November to answer questions related to the same politically motivated case from 2013.
We urge the Moroccan authorities to once and for all dismiss the charges against Ali Anouzla and to allow him the freedom to practice independent journalism unhindered. This relentless pursuit of a respected journalist on clearly unfounded charges should be an embarrassment to Morocco; instead, the authorities appear determined to punish him for his willingness to question authority – the very basis of what it is to be a journalist. Ali Anouzla is no terrorist, and the Moroccan authorities should be ashamed by these persistent attempts to denigrate both him and the profession of journalism in such a way. Let Ali Anouzla go free; let critical, independent journalism in Morocco thrive.
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information “ANHRI”
The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights
The Tunis Center for Press Freedom
The Committee for the Respect of Human Rights and Liberties in Tunisia
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Journaliste en danger
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
International Press Institute (IPI)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA)