National Security Laws Are Being Abused to Silence Journalists Around the World
Crackdown on free press.
Photo Credit: Ioannis Ioannou/Shutterstock.com
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In Rabat, Morocco, both cheers and caution: Ali Anouzla, the journalist arrested last month and charged under terrorism statutes, has been released on bail. On the streets in front of Salé prison, where he was held, and on social media, supporters are cheering for Anouzla, but his fight is far from over. According to his defense lawyer, Hassan Semlali, Anouzla’s charges remain, and "he continues to maintain his innocence".
"We are very thrilled that Anouzla has been released, even on bail," says Miriyam Aouragh, a Moroccan activist and academic living in Oxford, "but he should not have been arrested in the first place. This is a mockery of our judiciary system and confirms the struggle for a balanced media is intimately connected to the struggle for democracy with basic human rights."
From the beginning, the case has been fraught with absurdity. Anouzla, who is the co-founder of the popular online news site Lakome, was arrested after he linked to an article in the Spanish publication El Pais that contained a link to a YouTube video purportedly uploaded by the terrorist organisation al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). From there, authorities took an enormous leap, charging Anouzla with "material assistance" to a terrorist group, "defending terrorism", and "inciting the execution of terrorist acts". In addition to the charges against Anouzla, Lakome.comremains blocked, along with several mirrors of the site.
As Moroccan journalist Aida Alami has written, Anouzla is an exceptional journalist whose reporting on the case of a paedophile pardoned by Morocco’s king helped prompt protests that pushed the monarch to reverse his decision. This, along with Anouzla’s brave reporting on other topics over the years, had surely not escaped the eyes of authorities.
Free speech and human rights organisations around the world have stood up to support Anouzla, while Moroccan organisations and publications have offered unprecedented support as well. "The only reason Anouzla received a bit of breathing space is because activists and worried journalists across the world raised their voice," says Aouragh. "We need to understand and remind others that it matters that we speak out and organise."
The prosecution remains steadfast in their charges against Anouzla, charges that could land Anouzla in prison for up to 20 years.
Silencing the opposition
Despite its reputation for reform, the regime of King Mohammed VI has a history of silencing the opposition, and its efforts tend to start with journalists. Anouzla’sLakome co-founder, Aboubakr Jamaï , was editor of Le Journal Hebdomodaire until that paper was shut down by authorities in 2010 under a pile of debts brought on by government meddling. In 2007, the government shut down edgy magazine Nichanefor two months after it published a collection of popular Moroccan jokes, some of which were aimed at the monarchy. In 2009, Akhbar Al-Youm was banned for publishing a cartoon that involved the country’s flag, its editors charged with "defiling the national flag" and "failing to show deference to the prince".
The creator of Nichane and former editor of TelQuel Ahmed Benchemsi has spoken out from personal experienceagainst the government’s efforts to silence journalists. TelQuel, a popular French weekly, was known for its provocative editorial line, and the Moroccan government made Benchemsi suffer for it, going after him at every possible chance.
In 2009, 100,000 copies of both TelQuel and Nichane were seized and destroyed by police forces - for the second time - after TelQuel cited an opinion poll on the king’s public record, conducted jointly with French daily Le Monde. In an absurd twist, the poll had found 91 percent of Moroccans rated the monarch’s performance "positive" or "very positive", but that didn’t stop authorities from going after Benchemsi and his magazine: A government spokesperson wrote an op-ed against the magazines and in the end, Benchemsi chose self-imposed exile over the shuttering ofTelQuel.