HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH The Internet In The Mideast And North Africa: Free Expression and Censorship
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The government of Morocco does not restrict access to the Internet or censor content, according to several Internet users interviewed in Morocco. Accounts are easily obtained from dozens of private service providers, and users can access the unfiltered World Wide Web from home, the office, or one of many cybercafés operating in the big cities.

Yet Internet use has grown slowly since it was introduced in late 1995. Contrary to official claims of more than 40,000 regular Internet users in a country of 28 million,(92) the private Internet Association estimated the number of subscribers at 8,000 and the number of regular users at 12,000.(93) According to the association's president, Chakib Lahrichi, the slow growth is due not to government restrictions but rather to high costs for users, the absence of a national policy to promote Internet development, and unfair advantages enjoyed by the state-controlled telecommunications company Itissalat al-Maghrib (IAM) in its competition with private ISPs.(94)

In early 1998, Internet access in Morocco cost about U.S. $40-50 per month for a subscription that included fifteen hours online plus the cost of the telephone connection (approximately $2 per hour). This cost was quite high for a country with one of the region's lowest per capita gross national products.(95) By 1999 the average subscriptions had dropped to about $20 per month for unlimited access, with telephone charges remaining at about $2 per hour.

Lahrichi, who heads a major Casablanca-based private ISP called L&L Technologies, pointed out that Internet growth was impeded by the structure of telecommunications in the country. Private ISPs, he said, must use the lines and international gateway maintained by IAM. For the services it provides them, IAM "imposed whatever prices it wants" while competing with them as an ISP itself.

Lahrichi said, however, that he was aware of no government-imposed blocking or filtering of web pages, newsgroups, or e-mail. ISPs provided Internet access for anyone who could pay for it and were not required by the government to furnish any information about their customers. With respect to Morocco's cybercafés, Lahrichi said anyone could open one and he had not heard of any being the object of government pressure or surveillance.

Karl Stanzick, who manages an ISP called MTDS (Morocco Trade and Development Services) in Rabat, said "there is no 'usage contract' which needs to be signed or agreed to by the Internet subscriber whether purchasing an hour in the cybercafé, a dial-up account, or a leased line." Stanzick added that no government approval is required to obtain an Internet account or post a web site, and "all Internet subscribers in Morocco can be completely anonymous if they wish." He said the authorities have not imposed on ISPs any form of legal liability for materials they carry, and he was unaware of any ISP that had been punished for "objectionable" content. Stanzick remarked, however, that the "red lines" that inhibit political commentary in traditional media--the taboos on questioning the institution of the monarchy and Morocco's claim to the Western Sahara, and on "insulting" the King or Islam--also limit what Moroccans are willing to post in public chat-rooms and electronic bulletin boards.(96)

The owner of an Internet café in a major Moroccan city, who requested anonymity, said that there had been no interference by authorities concerning what Internet users could do while at the establishment. He said clients could access anything they wished. A sample web search at the café for pro-Polisario(97) perspectives on the Western Sahara conflict turned up many sites, such as <>, containing material that would never appear in the Moroccan print or broadcast media.

The only instance of censorship that the café had experienced occurred in February 1997, when the owner said he received a written order from the regional police headquarters warning him that a particular compact disc software program entitled "3D Atlas" was banned in Morocco. Although the order did not explain the reason for the prohibition, the owner said he had been given to understand that it was due to the way that this software presented the issue of sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

Although the government of Morocco did not reply to Human Rights Watch's written questions about Internet policies, it forwarded in June 1998 a fact-sheet about Internet use in the Kingdom. It stated that sixteen government ministries and agencies maintain web sites and seven Moroccan newspapers are online.(98)

92. The web site of the state-controlled Itissalat al-Maghrib telecommunications utility, <>, accessed May 12, 1999, claimed "more than 40,000 regular users in Morocco."

93. E-mail communication from association president Chakib Lahrichi to Human Rights Watch, May 12, 1999.

94. Interview with Human Rights Watch, Casablanca, April 30, 1998 and e-mail to Human Rights Watch, May 12, 1999. See also Ghassan Khaber, "Internet au Maroc: Deux ans et toujours à tâtonner," L'Économiste (Morocco), January 15, 1998.

95. Morocco's GNP per capita was U.S.$1,250 in 1997, according to The World Bank, World Development Report, 1998/99, p.191.

96. E-mail communications to Human Rights Watch, May 21, 1998 and January 12, 1999.

97. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro, known as the Polisario Front, is the Western Saharan liberation movement. Morocco has asserted sovereignty over the territory and has been fighting a war against the Polisario since the mid-1970s.

98. The French embassy in Rabat maintains a handy directory of online addresses in Morocco, at <>.

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© June 1999
Human Rights Watch