Morocco should drop charges against freedom of expression advocates and halt all restrictions on rights and freedoms

In Arab Countries by CIHRS

عبد الصمد عياش - Abdessamad Iyach

عبد الصمد عياش – Abdessamad Iyach

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) expresses alarm over escalating violations of the rights to freedom of expression and association in Morocco.

A group of 7 human rights activists, journalists and NGO workers are scheduled to appear before the court of first instance in Rabat today, 19 November, to face what are believed to be politically motivated charges related to their legitimate human rights and journalistic work. The trial comes following a series of increasing harassment against activists in Morocco, in addition to an increasing pattern of restrictions against some human rights groups, which raise serious doubt over the country’s stated commitment towards democratic reform and rights protection.

Silencing independent voices through such trials and restrictions undermines the process of reform and human rights promotion that Morocco has embarked on since 2011 and signals a worrying regress from the leading role- in comparison with other governments in the region- which the country assumed following the citizen-led pro-human rights and democracy uprisings that swept the Arab region five years ago.

Maati Monjib, historian, journalist and president of “Freedom Now” for freedom of expression in Morocco; Hicham Mansouri, project manager at the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI); Hisham Almiraat, former president of the Association of Digital Rights (ADN); Abdessamad Iyach, former coordinator of the training project at Ibn Rushd research center, journalist and acting project manager at AMJI; and Mohamed Saber, president of the Moroccan Association of Youth Education (AMEJ) are being tried before a court in Rabat on charges of “undermining internal security.” In addition, Rashid Tarik and Maria Moukrim, president and former president of the AMJI respectively, will appear on November 19 before the same court on charges of receiving foreign funding for AMJI without having notified the General Secretariat of the government.

Monjib, Mansouri, Iyach, Almiraat and Saber are facing charges under infamous Article 206 of the Moroccan penal code that criminalizes anyone who “directly or indirectly, receives from a person or a foreign organization, in any form, support intended, or used, to finance an activity or propaganda capable of harming the integrity, sovereignty or independence of the Kingdom, or shaking the loyalty that citizens owe to the state and the institutions of the Moroccan people.” If found guilty, the five activists could face up to five years in prison in addition to a fine up to 10, 000 dirhams.

Article 206 allows, through its use of broad and vague language, the penalization of a wide range of freedom of expression and association related activities.  It further undermines the right of Moroccan civil society actors to seek funding freely within the law and as guaranteed by the international human rights conventions to which Morocco is party. Loosely defined accusations such as those stipulated in Article 206 are deployed repeatedly by governments across the region to curb dissent and tarnish the reputation of activists without providing any sound legal basis that match the dangerous nature of the accusations. Measures taken to protect national security should not be used to curtail peaceful ways of expressing opinion and association or go against the country’s responsibility in protecting human rights. On the contrary, creating an enabling environment for civil society actors, and empowering the work of human rights defenders and independent journalists are pivotal for Morocco’s stability and progress.

Moukrim and Tarik face charges under the 1958 associations law for receiving foreign funding without notifying the General Secretariat of the government and could be fined up to 5, 000 dirahms under Article 8 of the same law.

Monjeb, who has been the subject of a wide defamation campaign for the past year, was summoned for investigation at the National Brigade of the Judiciary Police (BNPJ) headquarters in the city of Casablanca on 14 September 2015. According to Monjib, during the investigation, he was questioned about his work at Ibn Rushd Center, a research institute he established and managed until the end of 2014, and his relations with international rights and democracy organizations. Monjib was accused of defamation, destabilizing people’s allegiance to state institutions, working with foreign entities against the state, and spreading false accusations. In October, Monjeb began a three weeks long hunger strike in protest against an unjustified de facto travel ban imposed against him, during which he was summoned again for interrogation at the BNPJ on October 19. The travel ban was subsequently lifted.

Abdessamad Iyach was summoned for interrogation on 15 August 2015 at the BNPJ offices and interrogated for several hours about his work as a journalist and human rights defender after which he was subsequently released. He later learned that he was banned from travel when he tried to board a plane to Tunis on 25 August.

Hisham Almiraat, along with another colleague working for ADN, was also interrogated by the BNPJ in Casablanca in September 2015. He was questioned following a judicial complaint filed by the Ministry of Interior concerning a joint report on surveillance in Morocco, the writing of which ADN had contributed. The report, “Their Eyes on Me,” tackled the issue of technical surveillance in Morocco and was published by Privacy International.

Hisham Mansouri is currently serving a 10 month prison sentence on charges of complicity in adultery under sections 490 and 491 of Moroccan Penal Code in a trial that observers qualify as tainted with many legal irregularities. Mansouri was also brought from prison to the BNPJ offices and interrogated about his work with AMJI and his relationship with Maati Monjib, Hisham Al-Miraat, and Samad Iyach, as well as the organizations Free Press Unlimited, Privacy International, and Global Voices. In addition, he was questioned about AMJI’s sources of funding and accused of creating fitna (unrest), and serving foreign agendas through his activity with these organizations.

This case comes in the midst of rising restrictions on the work of a number of independent national and international organizations working on the situation of human rights in Morocco. The Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), one of the largest and most outspoken organizations in the country, has been facing recurrent restrictions, including ongoing banning of several of the NGO’s activities and administrative impediments to register its branches. AMDH’s headquarters was also raided by the police last year. Additionally, in June, two Amnesty International researchers who were conducting research in Morocco were briefly held by authorities and expelled from the country.[1] This was followed by an official letter sent to Human Rights Watch by the government in October asking the organization to suspend its activities in the country.[2] It is also important to note that all the NGOs that the activists facing charges belong to have been subject to restrictions that range from de-facto bans on activities in the case of AMJI, to the denial of registration without providing legal ground like in the case ADN. These instances indicate a shift in the policy of Morocco from freedom of association to the decreasing tolerance of critical voices.

Accordingly, CIHRS calls on the Moroccan government to drop all charges against the 7 activists and to halt undue restrictions imposed on civil society in the country. CIHRS further calls on the Moroccan parliament to revise Article 206 of the penal code in the current penal code reform discussions in order to comply with the country’s obligation to uphold the rights of freedom of expression and association under international human rights law and as stipulated by Morocco’s 2011 constitution.

[1] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2015/06/amnesty-international-staff-members-expelled-from-morocco/

[2] https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/10/02/statement-regarding-human-rights-watch-activities-morocco

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