The trial of five Moroccan civil society activists for running foreign-funded smart phone training on citizen journalism is a blatant attack on freedom of expression, said Amnesty International ahead of the start of their trial tomorrow.
All five face penalties of up to five years in prison under national security laws if convicted. They are on trial for training people to use the “StoryMaker” citizen journalism smartphone app as part of a project funded by the Dutch NGO, Free Press Unlimited. Their lawyer told Amnesty International that in the eyes of the authorities, this threatens “the integrity, sovereignty or independence of the kingdom or the loyalty that citizens owe to the state and the institutions of the Moroccan people”.
“StoryMaker” is an open source app that enables journalists to publish professional-grade news content including graphics using their phones.
“The charges represent a brazen attempt to silence and intimidate those promoting grassroots, citizen journalism - they must be dropped immediately,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Once again free press is under attack from the Moroccan authorities and once again it is freedom of expression that they are putting on trial.
Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa
“Once again free press is under attack from the Moroccan authorities and once again it is freedom of expression that they are putting on trial.”
The five are:
Maati Monjib, an historian and a leading member of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI).
Abdessamad Ait Ayyach (known as Samad Iach), journalist and leading AMJI member.
Hicham Mansouri, journalist and leading AMJI member.
Hicham Khreibchi (known as Hicham Al-Miraat), digital freedoms advocate and former president of the Digital Rights Association (ADN).
Mohamed Essaber, president of the Moroccan Association for the Education of Youth (AMEJ).
“Training members of the public to use a citizen journalism app is not a crime. Moroccans have the right to know what is happening in their country, and no one should be prosecuted for teaching journalism and investigative skills, regardless of whether they receive foreign funding or not,” said Said Boumedouha.
One of the five defendants, Hicham Mansouri is already serving a 10-month prison term for an unfair conviction of complicity in adultery and Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience. The organization fears that the conviction came in reprisal for his work to promote investigative journalism and it calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
Another defendant, Maati Monjib, also faces charges of fraud and money-laundering after the Ibn Rochd Centre for Research and Information, which he founded and which also conducted Storymaker app and other investigative journalism training, received foreign funding.
Other journalists such as Ali Anouzla who, along with Maati Monjib helped found the media NGO Freedom Now, have also been targeted by the authorities for their independent journalism.
Ali Anouzla was arrested in September 2013 and detained for over a month. He faced charges of “advocating” and “supporting” terrorism for an article commenting critically on a video by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb published by the news website that he directed at the time, Lakome.com. On 12 November, authorities scheduled a new hearing with an investigating judge shortly after the Berlin-based International Media Alliance announced it was awarding him a prize for his courageous journalism. The hearing has been postponed until 26 November.
The Moroccan authorities are reviewing the country’s Penal Code. However, the latest version seen by Amnesty International still contains many restrictions on freedom of expression that are inconsistent with international human rights law.
The right to freedom of expression includes criticism of government and government policies. While states may legislate to restrict the right to freedom of expression in the interests of national security, such laws must be clear and not overly broad to avoid undermining the right to freedom of expression itself.