- The editor of the weekly 'Akhbar al-Ousbouaâ', Anas Tadili, is already in Kénistra prison (north of Rabat) serving a six-month prison sentence for a common-law offence. He has now been given a new one-year prison sentence for libel, allegedly committed against Morocco's Economy Minister Fathallah Oualalou, by indicating the Minister is homosexual.
Mr Tadili was given a sentence of one year in prison and a fine of 10,000 dirhams (about 900 euros) by the Rabat appeal court on Wednesday for allegedly libelling the Moroccan Economy Minister. The editor is already serving a six-month prison sentence and his family and his lawyer say he is being held in the Kénistra prison wing reserved for those who have received the death penalty.
Mr Tadili has been convicted for reporting in a 9 April article headlined "Homosexuality and the political class in Morocco" that police surprised a government Minister in a homosexual act in a beach resort in the north of the country. He did not name the Minister, but it was clear he was alluding to the Economy Minister.
The article was questioning the morality of the Minister. While homosexuality is widely practiced in Morocco - in particular in holiday resorts, where men-to-men encounters are openly displayed - it remains a social taboo and is generally considered bad moral.
- Even if calling someone a homosexual is very serious in Muslim culture, there is no justification for a one-year prison sentence, Mr Tadili's lawyer today told the Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters sans Frontičres (RSF). "I think what counted for the court was the fact that Mr Oualalou is a government minister and was a teacher at the Royal College," the lawyer added.
Six days after the article came out, Mr Tadili was suddenly put in prison, supposedly in connection with a 10-year-old common-law case. A detention order was issued because he was unable to immediately pay a fine of 3 million dirhams (about 270,000 euros).
The Economy Minister meanwhile asked Moroccan Prime Minister Driss Jettou to bring a libel action on his behalf. In Morocco, the head of government has the power to bring such actions when ministers consider they have been defamed.
The six-month sentence was passed on Mr Tadili on 1 June. In 1994, the editor had been charged with evading foreign exchange regulations after opening an account abroad. Currently, about 10 other complaints are suddenly being brought against him and are currently been investigated by the judicial authorities in Rabat.
RSF in a statement today deplored the new sentence against Mr Tadili. "We roundly condemn the application of prison sentences in libel cases and we call on the Moroccan authorities to amend the criminal code in order to eliminate jail sentences for press offences," statement said.
The French group pointed out that the UN calls on all governments "to ensure that press crimes are no longer subject to prison sentences except for crimes such as racist or discriminatory comments or appeals for violence." Journalists may be sanctioned in other ways that show more respect to press freedom, such as a fine or payment of damages to those who have been defamed, RSF said, adding: "In Tadili's case, such a long prison sentence and incarceration in a high security prison seem out of all proportion to the offence."
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