Detention for Article About Jihadist Video Threatens Reporting on Extremism
September 19, 2013
Ali Anouzla, like journalists around the world, considers it his job to cover what al-Qaeda and its affiliates say and do. When authorities confuse reporting with endorsing, they scare off other journalists who are legitimately reporting on such movements.
Joe Stork, acting Middle East and North Africa director

(Rabat) – Moroccan authorities arrested a prominent journalist on September 17, 2013, after he posted an article on the website he directs about a jihadist video. The Moroccan authorities should free the journalist, Ali Anouzla, unless they produce evidence that the article constituted an incitement to imminent violence.

Police arrested Anouzla at his home in Rabat and seized computer hard drives from the office of the Arabic-language Lakome.com. The crown prosecutor at Rabat’s Court of Appeals, Moulay El-Hassane Daki, released a statement on September 17 saying he had ordered Anouzla’s arrest to question him about a video attributed to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that Lakome.com had “published” that “contained a clear call and direct incitement to perpetrate acts of terrorism in Morocco.”

“Ali Anouzla, like journalists around the world, considers it his job to cover what al-Qaeda and its affiliates say and do,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “When authorities confuse reporting with endorsing, they scare off other journalists who are legitimately reporting on such movements.”

Lakome.com did not link to or post the video, which is entitled, “Morocco, Kingdom of Corruption and Despotism.” Instead, on September 13, the website published an article containing a link to a blog post about the video that had appeared on the website of the Spanish daily El País. The post at blogs.elpais.com contained a link to the video.

The Lakome.com article did not express support for the video’s message, but reported its substance. The article noted that the Arabic-language video, which it called “propaganda,” denounced King Mohammed VI as rich, corrupt, repressive, and allied with Israel, and that it contained a general appeal to Moroccans to “emigrate toward Allah,” which is commonly understood to mean to embrace Jihadism. Lakome’s article said that the 41-minute video was the first time AQIM, a regional affiliate of al-Qaeda, had targeted King Mohammed VI.

Lakome’s French-language sister site, fr.lakome.com, on September 14 published a news article about the AQIM video and embedded the video. However, Anouzla does not direct the French site, and officials detained no staff of the French website. The video is no longer accessible on the French Lakome site since YouTube, which had hosted it, removed the video. However, as of September 18, the video remained online at the video-sharing site Dailymotion.com.

Anouzla is in pre-arraignment (garde à vue) detention at the Casablanca headquarters of the National Brigade of the Judiciary Police. The charges against him have not been made public. Moroccan law limits pre-arraignment detention normally up to two days, but if a case involves offenses under the counterterrorism law of May 28, 2003, the limit is four days, renewable twice for a total of twelve days. As of September 18, Anouzla had not seen a defense lawyer.

The counterterrorism law provides a prison term of two to six years for anyone who “justifies” acts of terrorism “in writing… or via the various audiovisual or electronic means of disseminating information” (incorporated into the penal code as article 218-2). Authorities jailed four journalists on this charge shortly after the counterterrorism law went into effect, for their coverage of terrorist acts in Morocco.

At no time since Lakome’s Arabic site posted its article about the video on September 14 and the arrest of Anouzla three days later did authorities contact Lakome to discuss the article or demand its removal, a journalist at Lakome’s French site told Human Rights Watch.

Lakome.com opened its Arabic site in 2010 and its French site in 2011. The sites have become leading sources of independent reporting and commentary on politics and human rights in Morocco. The number of independent print newspapers in Morocco has shrunk, and television and radio severely limit their coverage of opposition and critical viewpoints on key issues. Anouzla directed the now-defunct print daily al-Jarida al-Oula. The head of the French-language Lakome, Aboubakr Jamaï, directed the weekly Le Journal, also defunct.

Morocco’s Justice Ministry, in a statement on September 17 announced it planned to file suit in Spain against El País for providing a link to the video, which, it said, constituted incitement to commit terrorist acts in Morocco.