Moroccan authorities have fallen out with the new wave of free writers. Bloggers. Two of them, including the owner of a cafe, were thrown into prison. One of them, Al-Yabid Boubaker, was released only last week after spending more than two months behind bars. Benjebli Said, President of the Association of Moroccan bloggers, is concerned about the constant pressure these bloggers have been under following the government crackdown on the blogging community.
Members of the Association of Moroccan bloggers, composed of citizen-journalists working in the field of human rights know that posting a note or photo on a blog can come with a high price.
Two members of the association, Al-Bashir Al-Boubaker and Hazzam Yabid spent over two months in prison, late 2009, for daring to publish reports on a banned demonstration. The owner of the internet-cafe, from where a blogger posted his article online, is still behind bars.
Condemning the avalanche of repressive actions that have befallen bloggers, the group organized a “week of national mourning” in January.
Established only last year, the Association of Moroccan bloggers boasts of no fewer than 400 members till date, and intends to take part in the debate on the future of the media in the north African country. Benjebli Said, president of the association, describes the environment in which Moroccan bloggers find themselves.
Afrik-news.com: After El-Bashir Hazzam’s release in December, a second blogger, Boubaker Al-Yabid, was released from prison on the 5th of April. Does this indicate a return to calm? Are you relieved?
Said Benjebli: We live in a constant state of arrests and releases. This week again, we have been informed about a case that could be identified as an attack on the freedom of expression. It is about a minor who was arrested and tortured for visiting an American website. An event that dates back to 2009. For the time being, we do not have all the necessary details to enable us to react. In fact, we do not yet know if this person hacked into the said site, which would be considered criminal, or if he only used it to publish information, in which case it would be considered as an infringement on his freedom of expression. In what concerns Al-Yadib Boubaker, we are not relieved, because he was jailed for more than two months for committing no crime. His only crime was to publish articles about a demonstration on his blog.
Afrik-news.com: According to Le Monde, the Communications Minister Khalid Naciri claims the blogosphere is a “lawless zone,” thus implying the need for a law to control bloggers. What is your view on that?
Benjebli Said: I think the minister is right to suggest that. It is true that there are no laws that regulate the blogosphere to guarantee the right to free expression. However, what the authorities are looking for is a way to censor blogs. They have the means to put pressure on the media – through printing presses, distribution agencies, etc – but blogs are difficult to censor. That is why the authorities are severe with bloggers.
Afrik-news.com: What kind of information do your bloggers write about?
Said Benjebli: A wide range of information, and we work in the shadow of the press. We adhere to journalistic ethics. We have even written a Charter for bloggers. I do not think that any blogging community in the Arab world has ever done this.
Afrik-news.com: Jamal Eddine Naji, the coordinator of the Committee of National Dialogue on Media and Society, who is currently working on a project to reform the press code, described your bloggers as “fundamentalists.” Does this relate to your Islamist past?
Said Benjebli: I was once an Islamist but I am now secular oriented. Our movement is secular and our members come from very diverse backgrounds. Atheists, Socialists, Amazigh, Secular… everyone is represented in our association. We are above all free and we operate in a democratic manner.
Afrik-news.com: What do you think about the impact of the dialogue initiative undertaken by the Committee of National Dialogue on Media and Society on the future of the press?
Said Benjebli: This initiative comes from the very top. Jamal Eddine Naji, the coordinator, is a close friend of the King. He was commissioned by the ruling party, Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), to impose the state agenda without taking the opinion of journalists into account. They are neither seeking a serious partner nor have they agreed that we make credible proposals. Why do they hold secretive behind closed-door meetings? Is this not proof that a conspiracy is being played against journalists?
Afrik-news.com: Why did the committee include the blogosphere in its work, in your opinion?
Said Benjebli: They have indeed made the blogosphere a priority. They have also engaged the services of a U.S. specialist… If it is a dialogue, it is being done without the real actors of the electronic media. They instead want to keep the press at bay, impose their rules, impose electronic censorship and muzzle it. I personally received an official invitation. I attended two of their meetings, once as a representative of the Association of bloggers and another as a journalist. But once they realized that we were serious, that our proposals were credible, they discredited us by calling us fundamentalists to silence us. So we steered clear.
Afrik-news.com: You present yourself as an activist for human rights and freedom of expression, however, and by your charter, your members have no right to “undermine public decency” to go “against the values of society”. Are you willing to criticize religion, defend atheists, or show solidarity with homosexuals?
Said Benjebli: We cannot insult religions. Whether it’s Muslim, Jewish, Christian or otherwise. Within our association, we are able to differentiate between criticisms and insults. We of course encourage criticism, but we neither insult people nor what is sacred. Regarding homosexuals, I have backed some in the past. I have no problem with that. I think they have every right to express themselves, to run a blog or a website. Also, Chaouki Najib, who is a member of the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties (MALI[[The association made headlines in September 2009 when they organized a picnic in a public area during the holy month of Ramadan, to protest against the obligation to fast]]), is also one of the top members of the association. He is also a very close friend. This is to tell you that we respect everyone and remain open to all trends.
Afrik-news.com: How many members do you have?
Said Benjebli: We have 400 bloggers and around 1,000 sympathizers.
Afrik-news.com: Your association still doesn’t have the legal right to exist?
Said Benjebli: Our association is indirectly banned by the Moroccan authorities. The administration refuses to issue a receipt to show that we are registered. The authorities often resort to such [In a report published in October 2009, Human Right Watch denounced the widespread bureaucratic maneuvers that undermine freedom of association, including withholding registration from civic groups in violation of its own laws. The Interior Ministry often refuse to accept registration papers when a group’s objectives or membership displeases the authorities]] practices to [stifle unwelcome associations. As we have no legal existence, we don’t have the right to raise money for our various projects. It’s a very uncomfortable situation because we do not believe in working in the dark.