Background Briefing

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Appeal courts confirm two costly libel judgments against TelQuel

Moroccan courts have imposed heavy libel damages twice in recent months on TelQuel. On February 7, the Casablanca Appeals Court ordered the magazine to pay 500,000 DH to Touria Jaïdi (also known by Bouabid, her married name), president of the Moroccan Association to Help Children in Difficulty (l’Association Marocaine d’aide aux enfants en situation précaire), for reporting erroneously in its issue of May 7, 2005, that she was under police investigation for misappropriating funds. The Appeals Court thereby reduced the 900,000 DH in damages awarded by the Casablanca Court of First Instance on October 24, 2005. The appeals court confirmed, however, the fines of 5,000 DH apiece imposed on TelQuel publisher Ahmed Benchemsi and journalist Karim Boukhari.

In separate trials, courts convicted three other publications – al-Ahdath al-Maghribiyya (“Moroccan Events,” an Arabic-language daily), al-Ayyam, and al-Ousbou`iyya al-Jadida– that had carried, in various forms, the same erroneous information about Jaïdi. But both at first instance and on appeal, the courts imposed far higher damage awards on TelQuel than on the other papers, even though at least two of them – al-Ahdath al-Maghribiyya  and al-Ayyam – have much higher circulations than TelQuel, and even though TelQuel had published an apology and full retraction in the issue following the one containing the erroneous information.9 It appears that the discrepancy can be explained by a determination to punish or pressure TelQuel, whosecriticalreporting on government affairs attracts an elite readership.

On April 14, an appeals court confirmed the lower-court conviction of al-Ousbou`iyya al-Jadida, maintaining the 20,000 DH in fines and 30,000 DH in damages to Jaïdi. On April 18, appeals courts confirmed the libel convictions of al-Ahdath al-Maghribiyya and al-Ayyam. For the former (cases 71/67/05 and 72/67/05), the court confirmed two 20,000 DH fines, one against al-Ahdath director Mohamed Brini and one against journalist Abdelmjid Hachadi, and raised the damage award due Jaïdi from 100,000 to 250,000 DH while lowering the damage award due her association from 100,000 to 60,000 DH. Thus, the appeals court left al-Ahdath to pay fines and damages totaling 350,000 DH, up from the 240,000 DH imposed by the lower court. The appeals court trying al-Ayyam (case 93/67/05) maintained the 12,000 DH fine against publication director Noureddine Miftah and increased the damages from 120,000 DH to 250,000 DH, for a total of 262,000 DH.  

Thus, the appeals judgments narrowed but did not close the gap between the hefty damages imposed on TelQuel and those imposed on the other publications. Like the lower court, the appeals court that tried TelQuel did not document the basis for the damages it decided to award Jaïdi.  

In the second recent libel conviction of TelQuel, the Casablanca Court of First Instance on August 15, 2005 awarded damages of one million DH to plaintiff Halima Assali and imposed on TelQuel director Ahmed Benchemsi and editor Karim Boukhari suspended two-month prison sentences and fines of 25,000 DH apiece. Assali is a pro-government member of parliament whom Boukhari had ridiculed in a gossipy column published in a July 2005 issue.10 The column did not name her but its subject was evident to readers. It described her as someone from the Middle Atlas countryside who was elected to parliament despite a lack of credentials for the position, and who rarely attended parliamentary sessions.  The column also called her a “former cheikha, a woman of song and of pleasure(s),” thereby making innuendo, in the eyes of some observers, about her moral character.

Both Assali and TelQuel appealed the lower-court ruling, with the deputy seeking higher damages. Before the Casablanca Court of Appeals, Assali stated that she had never been a cheikha and that the article had hurt her, a married mother of two, and caused her to avoid social functions out of embarrassment.11 The defendants claimed that neither the label “cheikha” nor any of the other phrases in the column were libelous and that the column fell well within the bounds of a familiar style of column-writing that was “caustic but not insulting.”


On December 29, the Appeals Court upheld the conviction and the suspended prison sentences for Benchemsi and Boukhari, but reduced the damages owed to Assali from one million to 800,000 DH, a sum that still made it one of the largest libel judgments ever awarded in Morocco. The court did not explain how it assessed the value of the harm sustained by Assali. An appeal of the conviction by the defendants to the Court of Cassation is currently pending.

In recent weeks, Assali stated in writing that she would not seek payment by TelQuel of the award due her. 

[9] « Erratum. Mme. Bouabid hors de cause » TelQuel, May 14, 2005, online at

[10] The article, “Secrets d’une brune;” is online at

[11] “Les choses sérieuses (si on ose dire) commencent,” TelQuel, November 26, 2005.

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