Morocco orders closure of opposition newspaper

Moroccan authorities ordered closed the independent news magazine Le Journal Hebdomadaire and seized its assets this week, following what editors and press freedom advocates call a long campaign of harassment. Liquidators took control of the country’s most critical publication this week after a Casablanca commercial appeals court declared Jan. 25 that Le Journal Hebdomadaire’s former publishing group, Media Trust, and its current one, Trimedia, were bankrupt.

Aboubakr Jamaï, co-founder and former managing director of Le Journal Hebdomadaire, told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists that Trimedia could have paid the newsmagazine’s creditors “had the authorities refrained from regularly ordering advertisers to boycott” the publication.

Le Journal Hebdomadaire was dealt a devastating financial blow in 2006 when a Moroccan court ordered that it pay 3 million dirhams (US$354,000) damages in a defamation case filed by Claude Moniquet, head of the Brussels-based European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center. Moniquet said Le Journal Hebdomadaire had defamed him in an article questioning his group’s independence. The organization had issued a report on the disputed Western Sahara that the news magazine said closely reflected the official view of the Moroccan government.

Jamaï left the country after the 2006 court decision and a series of government-inspired cases of harassment against the news magazine. Harassment of Le Journal Hebdomadaire appeared to ease for a time. But when Jamaï returned to Morocco in 2009 and resumed his critical journalism, he said, the government intensified its efforts to have advertisers boycott Le Journal Hebdomadaire. In September 2009, the Supreme Court upheld the damage award in the Moniquet case.

“We condemn the strategy of using the courts to silence critical publications,” said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program coordinator Mohamed Abdel Dayem. CPJ wrote to King Mohamed VI in July 2009 to express disappointment with “the continuous use of the courts to suppress freedom of expression.” (BBC World Service, Jan. 30; CPJ, Jan. 29)

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