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Morocco: Understanding Mohammed Raji's Sentence

Less than a year ago, Global Voices noted Morocco as the “liveliest free speech zone in Muslim North Africa.” It would not be a stretch to say that Morocco ranks among the best for free speech in the entire Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region.

And yet, journalists are all too frequently fined or arrested, and yesterday a blogger, Mohammed Raji, joined their ranks. The blogger was arrested yesterday afternoon for insulting the king, and was immediately tried and sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of MAD 5,000 (about $625). The Moroccan blogosphere, lively as ever, has rallied around Raji.

A Moro in America, whose blog was among the first to report the story, offers a critique of Morocco's hypocritical handling of the press and bloggers:

Apparently the Moroccan Internet Police, which apparently is doing a great job following up on the Moroccan blogosphere, is not fully aware of the scale of media echo arresting a blogger can generate. That’s either because they work for their superiors who belong to the pen-and-paper era, and still see the Internet as nothing but a virtual world, or they are blinded by their fervor and ambition to receive reward for making such “a big bust.”
They don’t realize that they unintentionally propel Morocco to the list of top violators of freedom of speech on the net.
Even worse, it reveals a pattern of mishandling of the issue of Moroccans expressing their opinions online. It started with blocking access to video-sharing website YouTube and Google Earth, the arrest of the so-called fake Facebook prince, Fuad Mourtada, and now with sentencing Blogger Raji to two years in prison. Most probably this case will end with the same scenario as it did with Fuad Mourtada. The police made the arrest. The news made it all over the world, tarnishing the image of modern Morocco in full democratic transition, and then the suspect gets a royal pardon on the Eid’s eve. It’s called self-inflicted negative publicity that Morocco ends up getting from such high-profile cases.
The Moroccan judiciary and the Internet Police still involve Moroccan in big profile arrests of opinion.

Author and blogger Laila Lalami makes a necessary point:

The arrest marks the first time anyone has been arrested for a blog post in Morocco, and, given the Moroccan government’s touchiness, I can guarantee it is not the last time. But I would like to make one small point: Erraji’s criticism is quite mild compared with what one can read in such French-language Moroccan magazines as Tel Quel or Le Journal. But these publications enjoy the support of many international groups (such as Reporters Without Borders) and so the government often has to think twice before arresting one of their journalists or editors. But because Erraji writes in Arabic, and because he writes for Hespress, a website whose quality is quite questionable (it’s very populist and sometimes inaccurate), and because he is not part of the connected elite, his right to freedom of expression has simply been denied and his case has been even more bungled than usual.

A website has been set up to defend Erraji: Help Erraji. I wish there was also a website to help Morocco get a clue on press freedom.

Citoyen Hmida, remarking on the case [fr], says:

Où est le mal dans tout celà?

Dans l'introduction du billet, peut-être qui reprendrait une anecdote dont un quotidien aurait déjà fait l'écho!

Y a-t-il matière à délit? Y a-t-il matière à action publique?

Y a-t-il matière à remettre en cause un équilibre fragile entre la liberté de parole et la volonté de certaines institutions de défendre la monarchie que personne ne remet en cause?

Espérons que toute cette histoire n'est qu'un vaste malentendu!

Au delà de la personne de Mohamed Erraji et des idées qu'il peut exprimer, le MAROC n'a pas besoin d'une nouvelle fausse affaire.

Des problèmes bien plus sérieux nous attendent….

Where is the harm in all this?

In the introduction to the article, maybe he should have incorporated an anecdote which a newspaper has already repeated!

Can the crime be substantiated? Is there cause to take public action?

Is it justified to challenge a delicate balance between freedom of speech and the desire of certain institutions to defend the monarchy that nobody questions?

Let us hope that this whole story is a vast misunderstanding!

Beyond Mohamed Erraji and the ideas he has expressed, MOROCCO did not need a new trumped up case.

Far more serious problems lie ahead….

Finally, Ibn Kafka has compiled a comprehensive list [fr] of bloggers discussing Raji's case, as well as links to various articles about Morocco's press freedom (or lack thereof). He also notes that, technically, Raji got off easy:

…On notera cependant que Mohammed Erraji a bénéficié de la mansuétude légendaire de la justice marocaine, puisqu'il n'a été condamné qu'à deux années d'emprisonnement, alors que le minimum encouru pour cette infraction est trois ans et le maximum cinq ans. Cela signifie en théorie – en pratique les juges font ce qu'il leur chante – que des circonstances atténuantes lui ont été accordées – lesquelles?

…It should be noted, however, that Mohammed Erraji has benefited from the legendary leniency of Moroccan justice, and has since been sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, whereas the minimum incurred for this offense is three years, maximum five years. This means that in theory (in practice, judges practice what they preach), extenuating circumstances were taken into account – but which ones?

  • Sameer

    This really upset me :( .
    psst: Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region = Arabic region ;)

  • Moroccan

    Sameer:

    The defenders of Israeli interests in the US (ie majority of experts, US officials, etc) do not like to call our region by the name that we mostly use….

    We better get used to it because that’s what the “land of the free” has decided for 300 million people.

    Get used to it or one day you will be invaded, bombed and brought to submission by “satellite guided” bombs.

  • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian York

    Moroccan:

    I don’t know if you think I’m a defender of Israeli interests, but let me assure you, I am not. I use “MENA” because it is the commonly accepted term in the United States (and the “west”), and that’s where the majority of our readers come from. It is also an accurate term that encompasses non-Arabic-speaking countries such as Iran as well.

    Jillian

  • Sameer

    Jillian:

    I think when you said North Africa and Middle East we all know you never meant Turkey and Iran ;) .

    or else you mean Morocco is best for free of speech than Turkey !!!.
    I wonder if Morocco is best for free of speech than Israel too !!!.

    Come on, you meant Arab world, nothing less, nothing more.

  • http://jilliancyork.com Jillian York

    Seriously, what do you prefer I call it? Neither of you have given any honest indication of your motives; instead preferring to offer petty arguments to me and assume you know my agenda.

    Why waste so much time arguing back and forth about terminology for a region when we probably quite agree on the actual issues affecting it?

    And finally, please note that Global Voices’ categorization reflects the term I used. I am writing for this organization, and therefore will follow its standards, even my own differ. GV has the right ideals, regardless of how it refers to a country or region.

    What a silly comment thread, and one that happens in one way or another far too often.

  • http://uaestudents.blogspot.com/ UAEStudents

    Nice work putting all the pieces together on this story. We really appreciate your efforts to provide context.

  • Moroccan

    Jillian:

    We (at least I do) understand that you didn’t coin the term MENA but we are trying to tell you that we do not use that terminology and in fact many us find the terminology agenda-driven…what is this “Middle East and North Africa”?? one always wonders how and why the so-called experts carved out North Africa and decided it had be joined with the Middle East if it was not because they are linked through the “Arab world”?

    The MENA term does not give context and attempts to undermine the geopolitical identify of the region that has become centred around “The Arab world” and which enjoys popular support (except few minorities who object to the term).

    US policy makers and agenda-driven experts have been keen on undermining this geopolitical identity and promoting regional/localized geopolitical identities…..for us.

    MENA is a recent term too…do you really think people know what MENA is? In the past, it has been called the Middle East which even included the maghreb (that is how we call our region in North Africa) and which turned out to be geographically incorrect..So they added North Africa.

    If this is a petty issue, then why don’t you try to discuss this with GV editors and see if they would agree to the usage of both terms?

  • Sameer

    Jillian :

    I never meant to annoy you or mis the point of your article, I’m very sorry for any inconvenient, and I assure you, I’m 100% with the issue you reflect.

    I’m 100% with Moroccan, and he is from Morocco and Me from Syria, very far but I feel what he feels, and I understand 100% his point of view, cause simply we are ARABS.

    My point was just to remind you that we who you are talking about very sensitive to the term MENA, and anyone use it we consider him not honest with his views, cause that term was basically used to merge Israel into our Region.

    We are not perfect, we have very deep and critical issues, yet if GV rules is to name us MENA, that’s clear the picture and shake GV neutralism.

    Cause we have got enough from this term, WE HATE IT, WE DON’T LIKE IT, and if GV doesn’t recognize ARAB WORLD, maybe he should start, cause this way he will gain trust from us, or he will be another foreign press that look like it cares for us, but in deep it just meant to shake and manipulate the inside community of that nations.

    I really like GV, and I would really like to see my Region is named as it should be, we have an Organization which is recognized by UN, it’s ARAB league.

    This issue may not seem important for you, but it’s so important to us, naming the region will make the world understand that Arabs nation is so bad in free of speech which is your basic artice.

    Saying North Africa and Middle East, will not really reflect the accurate issue here.

    Sorry again, I just wanted to tell you we really consider this a critical issue and important as important your article is.

    Have a nice day.

  • http://sillybahrainigirl.blogspot.com Amira Al Hussaini

    Thank you Moroccan and Sameer for your feedback on this issue.

    As a 100 per cent Arab myself I see your points of view and understand the dilemma. And as a 100 per cent Arab, I am once again dismayed and confused because I would like to assure you that GV, Jillian, myself and everyone associated with this project has no political or hidden agendas. I would rather I spent what is free of my time to further causes related to freedom of speech and human rights and make the voices of bloggers from our region more visible – rather than a spat on what is and what isn’t the Middle East. Whatever it is – it’s future is in our hands – the educated, computer literate lot.

    Moroccan and Sameer,
    We can follow up on this discussion on email if you prefer or on a post either of you can write on your blogs – as it is hijacking Erraji’s cause – and taking attention away from his plight.

  • Moroccan

    Dear Amira:

    You suggested that we spent more time making the voices of bloggers from our region more visible, but to whom exactly?

    Erraji’s case is visible enough among the people who should be concerned with his case: Moroccans.

    The fact that foreign organizations get to decide for us what “injustices” are more pressing is becoming an issue for many us, especially after the impunity we have witnessed in the last 5 years or so in the bloodbath of Iraq. The US, with its government, think-tanks, news editors, media pundits, military leaders and even academics get to decide how many Iraqi lives are to be sacrificed for their great cause of “freedom” that they designed for them without their consent.

    Is the bloodbath in Iraq not good enough of a lesson for you, Amira?

    I do not see the purpose of GV except that it is an attempt to turn the attention away from one of the most pressing issues that threatens world peace and which most of the world worries about: the US government imperialist foreign policy. GV stated that they are not interested in reporting on US-based bloggers because apparently the bloggers in America have already figured out what they needed to discuss (the foreign policy is an issue what we foreigners get concerned with).

    I just read that the US government has drastically increased the sales of weapons around the world ($13 billion in the last few years vs $800 million 4 year ago). The report indicated that the US government is even buying US-made weapons for US-occupied Iraq and Afghanistan..$3 billion worth of weapons for Iraq and $10 billion for Afghanistan in the last 2 years…US military officials, with the approval of US congress (who gets notified of all weapon sales), argued that they are building “allies” through these sales of weapons of death and destruction.

    Morocco is going to acquire a new set of fighter jets (F-16s) modern enough to keep the tensions with our “neighbor” Algeria “competitive and diplomatic”.

    The world is getting hijacked, Amira. Wake up.

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