(Tunis) – Morocco’s recent overhaul of its speech laws leaves intact the country’s famous red lines on critical speech, as well as other provisions that could land people in prison solely for peaceful expression, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
The 36-page report, “The Red Lines Stay Red: Morocco’s Reforms of its Speech Laws,” compares the new laws with those they replaced, and urges Morocco’s recently formed government and the parliament elected in October 2016 to adopt legislation decriminalizing all nonviolent speech offenses. Restrictions under the country’s penal code undercut the positive features of the new laws, Human Rights Watch said. Notably, the revised penal code maintains prison as punishment for speech that harms the monarchy, the person of the king, Islam, and Morocco’s “territorial integrity” – the “red lines” that limit critical discussion of some of the key issues in the kingdom.
“Taking prison terms for peaceful speech out of one law and dropping them into another is not persuasive reform,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Morocco needs to eliminate prison terms for peaceful speech across the board.”
Moroccan courts have imprisoned journalists and others, including rappers, in recent years solely for peaceful criticism of the authorities, under both the press and penal codes. The new Press and Publications Law maintains most of the speech offenses in the previous 2002 law in the same or a slightly altered form, eliminating imprisonment as a punishment, while maintaining fines and court-ordered suspensions of publications.