Moroccan King’s asthma a dangerous subject for the media

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Four newspaper editors Tuesday resigned from the Federation of Moroccan media (FMM). Police interrogations and criminal accusations have become the order of the day after Al Jarida Al Oula, a local newspaper, published a press release on the king’s condition of health. Bans on evocations concerning Mohamed VI founded in religious justifications have, above all, contributed to limiting freedom of press in the Northern African nation.

The Moroccan independent press is fuming. The directors of four independent newspapers have lent their support to Ali Anouzla, editor of Al Jarida Al Oula, charged by the Moroccan justice system for publishing an article on the health of King Mohamed VI. Abdallah Chenkou (Le Canard Libéré), Abderrahim Ariri (Al Watan Alaan), Hafid Mohamed (Al Hayat Al Oussbouiya) Chahtane and Idriss (Al Mishaal), Saturday, resigned from their positions on the executive board of the Federation of Moroccan Media (FMM). This decision follows a September 3 statement from the FMM explaining that “the private sphere of the sovereign [Mohammed VI] is, for some, a genuine goodwill who do not hesitate to exploit the benefits thereof”. The editor of Al Hayat Al Oussbouiya, Mohamed Hafid, told the AFP that members of the Executive Council “were not consulted before the release,” which is why they resigned. Another subject of criticism from Mohamed Hafid refers to the fact that the statement from the FMM was issued at a time when the director of Al Jarida Al Oula, Ali Anouzla was still in police custody alongside Bouchra Edaou, the journalist who wrote the disputed article. Their hearings lasted no less than three days. They are expected to appear before the court September 29.

Vague summons

The Rabat public prosecutor launched an “extensive” investigation targeting Al Ayam and Al Mishaal (Morocco’s leading newspaper), headed respectively by Noureddine Miftah and Idriss Chatane, one of those who resigned from the FMM, on Saturday. The two directors as well as two other journalists from Al Ayam, Maria Moukrim and Youssef Bajaja were interrogated by the police. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is highly “concerned” about “new wave of arrests targeting journalists.” Bouchra Edaou’s article, which appeared in Al Jarida Al Oula and analyses an official statement on the health of Mohamed VI, is the origin of this judicial frenzy. Using “unanimous medical sources”, the journalist states that the 5 day rest taken by the King after he was treated for a mild “infection” is related to side effects from an asthma drug.

This affair comes at a time when a ban on Tel Quel and Nichane (two local newspapers) and Le Monde (a French daily) in August, which led to the withdrawal of their affected editions from newspaper stands, remains fresh in the memories of most Moroccans. A very positive survey about the king’s popularity had been frowned upon by the authorities who argued that it is forbidden to criticize the sacred king. Ahmed Benchemsi, editor of Tel Quel group, explained that despite “significant progress after Hassan II” there are still “big blunders” being committed. Liberation, a Moroccan daily, reminded the Moroccan government of its promise to hold a national press debate in its September 4 issue.

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