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Morocco Censors the Web: Collateral Damage Allowed

On the morning of October 19, many Moroccan netizens woke up to the blocking of a large number of websites, among them popular social media platforms Instagram and Pinterest. Noticeably, one of the main independent media outlets in Morocco, Lakome, has been censored. Targeting Lakome is actually the reason behind the wide blocking, operated by Maroc Télécom, the main Moroccan telephone and internet provider, and other, less influential companies.

Indeed, Lakome’s editor, Ali Anouzla, has been arrested on September 17 after he published an article containing a link to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) video. More precisely, the article was a report on AQIM's 40-minute propaganda video. The video dubbed Morocco the “kingdom of corruption and despotism,” and called for jihad (holy war) in the country, Anouzla wrote. The link to the video was in fact a link to the blog of a journalist with the Spanish daily El Pais. Anouzla was charged with terrorism on September 25, and has since then been in pre-trial detention. Such an abusive treatment has generated worldwide support, translated through social media campaigns with the hashtag #FreeAnouzla and massive calls to set the journalist free.

Meanwhile, Lakome.com was blocked as per alleged explicit demand of Anouzla himself. The story is murky, and various potentially interdependent events intertwine. Anouzla’s colleague and Lakome co-founder, Aboubakr Jamaï, explained that, on October 14, Ali Anouzla has publicized through the website Goud.ma a decision to shut down the Lakome’s Arabic version. This is also the moment when Jamaï is informed that Anouzla has a new lawyer. His confusion is apparent [fr]:

La décision d'Ali me laissait d'autant plus perplexe que la manière dont elle a été exécutée nous était à moi et à Lakome particulièrement hostile. Pourquoi ce nouvel avocat a décidé de communiquer d'abord à travers Goud ?

Et pourquoi ne pas m'informer ? Je suis co-fondateur de Lakome et directeur de publication de son site francophone, et depuis le 26 septembre, directeur de publication de lakome arabophone sans que personne n'y trouve à redire. De plus, Ali avait jusqu'à ce lundi 14 octobre demandé avec insistance que le site continue de fonctionner.

Ali’s decision left me even more perplexed given that the way it’s been put to work is particularly hostile to both myself and Lakome. Why has this new lawyer decided to communicate through Goud first?

And why not inform me about it? I’m Lakome’s co-founder and editor of its French version; also, since September 26, I am editor of Lakome’s Arabic version, a situation nobody has opposed so far. Moreover, Ali had — until this Monday, October 14 — required that the website keeps on functioning.

Aboubakr Jamaï actually decided to keep the website active. On October 17, Lakome.com was, however, effectively blocked. Quickly, the team set up two alternative urls, lako.me and lakome.info, which were swiftly blocked as well. This arbitrary movement clearly illustrates the fact that blocking Lakome is unlawful and politically driven. Mohamed Ezzouak explains (Fr) that suspending Lakome as per Anouzla's demand should have been rejected by the public prosecutor or the National Agency for the Regulations of Telecoms because him being editor does not suffice to legitimate his ownership of the website. Ezzouak finally argues that “the speed of this new blocking [of the newly set-up domain names] demonstrates the authorities’ desire to silence the website at any cost.”

It is how on October 19, Lakome was blocked completely, a move decried by netizen and human rights activist Yassir Kazar as “North Korea style.” The blocking has widened, causing impressive collateral damage:

Initial reports were quoting Tumblr as blocked as well, but it came out the blogging platform was experiencing technical issues on its own side. Irony spread over Twitter as netizens were flagging (un)censored websites:

Youporn is still accessible

They have also cut trib.al for a reason I cannot comprehend, thus one is no longer able to click on @TheEconomist's links

Ruzzle [a word-smithing mobile phone game] censored. This time, it's clear, the regime wants us to remain idiots.

In a surprising move, French-based independent hackers news outlet Reflets.info was also blocked:

Screenshot from blocked within Morocco website Reflets.info. Image from @vxroot

Screenshot from blocked within Morocco website Reflets.info. Image from @vxroot

Two of its co-founders reacted, one of them addressing the French Minister for Digital Economy, and the other asking Maroc Télécom (Fr) for explanations. Reflets.info's blocking seems to be (Fr) politically motivated as it has been firmly standing behind Lakome and denouncing the Moroccan government's decision to censor it.

The censorship was hugely decried on Twitter:

Have a look at @vxroot's timeline if you want to admire censorship in Morocco. They have black-listed the services on which are based plenty of other sites 1/2

now, not only activists are concerned, but also admins, developers and ordinary web users of Amazon 2/2

He was indeed correct, as local entrepreneurs have been showing discontent (Fr) about important services such as Amazon and Heroku being blocked thus directly impeding on the local economy.

On a more vindictive note, Twitter user @L_badikho invited hackers:

[I'm giving free ideas, 2) to hackers] take over a governmental website and install a Lakome mirror on it

Others, such as @sniper_ma, highlighted the negative impact in terms of image the country will have on the international scene:

This websites’ blocking will cost a lot in various global indicators. Kudos!

Quite timely congratulations were apparently also sent to the Moroccan government from China:

The Chinese Communist Party salutes the progress Morocco has completed in terms of internet freedom — MAP [Moroccan Press Agency]

According to personal contacts in Morocco, at the time of writing, the blocking seems to be country-wide for Lakome and Reflets.info while blocking of other services is patchy as it apparently depends on strict IP addresses. Some of the mirrors set for Lakome are also censored. There has been no official declaration yet.

  • MrSamgx40

    It seems like The Lovely “Makhzen” has been full of absurdities lately …One wrong decision after the other! This goes against everything the Moroccan Government pretends to stand for in the eyes of the international community. I wonder who screwed up this time and who’s gonna pretend they didn’t know anything about it!!!

  • mohand

    Are you sure those websites are really blocked in Morocco and you’re not just basing your whole writing on selected tweerts with no base whatsoever. I myself live abroad but based on my contact with friends in the homeland, they can access Instagram, Pinterest and all social platforms you just listed. I didn’t ask about lakome as let’s be frank and stop the b***hit, I’ve never heard of that news website until that guy got jailed, I know of few Moroccans that would go there to check the news, this coming from a Moroccan living abroad and daily checking online Moroccan news websites for latest news.. People keep saying it’s one of the major news website, but those are only exaggerations to sympathise with Mr Annouzla.

    I find it hash the guy got jailed, especially a month before the Eid, but it’s not like he didn’t know what he is doing. He touched a bad nerve there and challenged the whole Moroccan society as a consequence. My whole family lives in Morocco, and I have always been happy with the anti-terrorism acts Morocco has started in the early 2000 to prevent young Moroccan to get in the nets of terrorists, I remember at that time how trading those Iraq and Tchechenia videos was made illegal and all material with terrorist content.. people have been in jail because of that and no one ever spoke as we all saw it as a necessity, we were strongly hurt by the terrorist attacks we have experienced. The guy wanted to get his unknown website more clicks, he wanted people to talk about his website… And if there was only any journalism material there, it was more blogging than anything else. So let’s cut the crap and stop making my country look evil everywhere. You may be hundreds tweeting online and talking s**t about my country, but we are millions so happy with how things are and love to live in peace.

    And before u call me a makhzenian or whatever… I’m just a Moroccan happy to see his family sound and safe

    • MrSamgx40

      Yeah No one spoke up before. No one ever speaks up… Isn’t that exactly what the problem is?

      You’re trying to sell this idiotic idea that the government does what it does to keep you safe, so it’s OK to jail people at random and without due process, it’s OK to feed people everything under the sun but the real news, it’s OK to censor whatever little outlets that exist who dare to question the status quo and expose some real questionable behaviors and decisions from this government that does what it does to protect you.

      We all love Morocco and we like nothing more than to hear good things about it but when we see that this country is being led blindly in reverse by the “untouchables” and the “incompetents”, when we see it compared to North Korea frankly it pisses us off.
      A wise man once said: ” you can fool some people sometimes but you can’t fool all the people all the time”…

      You’re right in one thing, maybe not very many people knew about “Lakome” before, but guess what? now everybody knows about it. So all the Censorship and the jailing of its editor did was make it world famous.

      It is good that people speak up and while you don’t have to agree with it you have to respect what they have to say and quit trying to knock it, ridicule it, and discredit its legitimacy. While you claim you’re not a “makhzenian”, surprisingly enough you resort to these same tactics in your comment…

      • mohand

        The problem is not that no one is speaking up, the problem is people are speaking up for the wrong reasons.. and that’s my humble opinion as a Moroccan citizen, not as a makhzenian that the so-called new moroccans love to call every one that is against them. I’m no twitter adept nor social networks freak.. So I can’t tell what people say or think on those platforms, but I know from the field that most Moroccans have no clue what those are, and that you’re taking 100 people’s opinion making it a general view…
        You’re saying it “you can fool some people sometimes but you can’t fool all the people all the time”… Come on tell me of one real Moroccan journalist.. very few of them…
        This guys that got jailed didn’t bring any journalistic addition, he blatantly took a terrorism-related video and posted it to get himself clicks.. Pure blogging is what we call his article, no journalism.. he knew that was against the laws in Morocco and still did it to defy the general view… He wasn’t jailed with no hearing or anything, the guy will get a proper hearing that’s for sure
        Don’t disguise this case the way it’s not, it’s not related to human rights or anything like that.. It’s just a random guy defying a law many Moroccans agree with (I remember the satisfaction in Morocco early 2000s when that was adopted) and therefore paying the price of his mistake…

    • kevinff

      Idiot..
      Lakome was the second online newspaper in Morocco after hespress. (Alexa stats). In the top 30 visited sites (where facebook, google and other big sites are..).

      As you are lying, yes you are surely a makhzenian or your friends are simply not moroccan..

      I don’t know who you are and what you do here, because if you criticize moroccan people on twitter, then you are criticizing all Moroccans..

      • mohand

        hehe, insulting me directly, but you reflect the exact moronic way of seeing things I’m fighting as a Moroccan loving his country :)
        Nice to see that from being the main, now lakome is second on your comment, and even in the top 30 in the world… Hmmm.. For sure your source of data is very accurate… I’m not lying, I’m just saying I’ve never heard of that site before this case and the guy only wanted mediatisation for his website

        I’m no one, a simple Moroccan, that doesn’t use twitter or any social media tool, that keeps up-to-date with his country online, that knows that most of the population in his country can barely write let alone post comments on twitter, that can tell you that the 100 views on twitter reflect in no way the Moroccan view. But Kevinff, if you’re Moroccan you would already know and are just being a Morron, if you’re not I have no idea why I keep arguing with you as you can’t understand.

        Anyway, I find it a waste of my time answering to your comment, but I’ll close with one sentence. I don’t say Morocco is a perfect country, I can name you more issues and problems I see in my country than you can count, but for this exact case it is one of those times I’m a 100% behind the decision made by my country. When it comes to terrorism, there is n more kidding… What happened in Casablanca and Meknes and Marrakech may not seem that big for you seen from behind your screen (as I see you love to see Morocco through twitter only) but it had affected so many Moroccans. I keep saying that the censorship regarding terrorism-related content may seem harsh, but it’s necessary

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