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Editor jailed for running story about king’s health

Video by Jean-Marie LEMAIRE , Catherine NORRIS TRENT

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-10-16

The editor at the Arabic-language Moroccan weekly Al Michaâl was sentenced to a year in prison by a Rabat court on Thursday for publishing articles suggesting the king (pictured) was in poorer health than the palace admitted.

Idriss Chahtane, the head of the Moroccan weekly news publication Al Michaâl, was on Thursday sentenced to a year in prison without the possibility of parole by a Rabat court, for articles he published on September 3 questioning the health of King Mohammed VI.

The court also fined Chahtane 10,000 dirhams (approximately 885 euros) and ordered his immediate incarceration.

The same court handed down three-month prison sentences to two journalists at the same Arabic-language publication, Rachid Mhamid and Mustapha Hirane, who were slapped with fines of 5000 dirhams (440 euros). They were also held liable for their court costs.

Chahtane’s specific charge was “ill-intentioned publication of false information” and “allegations and unverified facts.” Mhamid and Hirane were charged for their participation in the incident.

On August 26, the royal palace announced that King Mohammed VI had been placed in convalescence for an “infection” that presented “no cause for concern regarding his health.”

A statement signed by the king’s personal doctor, Abdelaziz Maaouni, stated that the king had “a rotavirus infection affecting his digestion, and acute dehydration, necessitating five days of convalescent rest.”

At the end of August, Chahtane published an article called “Al Michaâl unveils the reasons behind the palace’s statement about the king’s malady, which has aroused public concern.”

Al Michaâl also published an interview with a doctor named Mohamed Ben Boubakri, entitled “Rotavirus, its cause is immunodeficiency… or allergy.”

This condemnation has brought into focus the continuing problem of freedom of the press in the North African kingdom. “Rules are rules,” “Larbi”, a Moroccan blogger writes. “In matters of what is sacred, to be tried is to be sentenced. In the Morocco of Mohammed VI, just as in the Morocco of Hassan II, no judge would dare acquit in a case where the injured party is the royal family.”

The president of the national journalists’ union in Morocco, Younes Mjahed, told FRANCE 24 that he called upon the authorities to “reconsider the punishment inflicted on Idriss Chahtane.” However, he said that the press should respect people’s private lives, which in his view had become “a big source of business for certain publications.”

He said that such publications should “re-examine their practices.”

The directors of two other Moroccan publications, Al Jarida Al Oula and Al Ayam, are also being prosecuted on the same grounds. The resurgence of crackdowns on the press has had its effects even outside Moroccan borders. In August, the French daily Le Monde was prohibited from distributing a poll it had published on the popularity of Mohammed VI – even though the results were flattering.

Date created : 2009-10-16


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