February 19, 2014

Legal proceedings in the case of Ali Anouzla grind on...

Yesterday, Moroccan Investigating Judge Abdelqader Chentouf questioned the defendant for a few minutes, then dismissed him and set the date of May 20 for the next hearing. This laconic pace at the Rabat Appellate Court seems at odds with how it all began, when Judge Chentouf refused to release Anouzla for one month following his arrest while he questioned him on charges of justifying and providing material support for terrorism, charges that could mean 20 years in prison.

On September 13, Anouzla’s Arabic-language news website Lakome.com reported that Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had put online a video in which the militant group for the first time directed its wrath at Morocco’s monarchy and exhorted the country’s youth to join the Jihad. Lakome’s article linked to a blogpost in a Spanish daily that provided a link to the AQIM video, which Lakome labeled “propaganda.”

The court has reportedly focused so far on Anouzla’s decision to provide a link to a link to the video. Anouzla maintains that, far from wishing to aid terrorists, he was informing his readers that a major militant group had set its sights on the country’s leader.

Since October, authorities have blocked access to Lakome.com from within Morocco, making it the only information site that they are known to block. The measure took effect shortly after Anouzla issued a statement declaring that he could not, while behind bars, maintain legal responsibility for the site and so was “temporarily suspending” it. Authorities apparently interpreted this as a reason to step in and block the site.

Some see other reasons behind the case. Anouzla edited two now-defunct independent daily newspapers before launching Lakome.com in December 2010, and he has been one of the few Moroccan journalists who criticize the palace directly. In a column published in May 2013, for example, he deplored the long absences of King Morocco VI from the country, and in August, he exposed how a royal pardon had sprung a convicted Spanish pedophile from prison, a decision the authorities later described as an error.

Since Anouzla was released on October 25, he has been asking the authorities, in vain, to unblock the site. He says he could try to resume the operation under a different domain name, but prefers on principle to stick with Lakome.com.

Anouzla joins a long list of government critics and dissidents who have been detained on grave charges only to be provisionally released to face a judicial process that advances at a snail’s pace, if at all. Anouzla may be conditionally free, but the charges still hang over him and, by extension, weigh on other outspoken Moroccans as well.