News / Middle East

    Moroccan Muckraker Fights Defamation Charge in Press Freedom Test

    This June 22, 2012 edition of Alaan Magazine shows Moroccan Minister of Industry, Trade and New Technologies Abdelkader Amara, who is suing magazine editor Youssef Jajili for his article on the official's alleged misuse of taxpayer funds.
    This June 22, 2012 edition of Alaan Magazine shows Moroccan Minister of Industry, Trade and New Technologies Abdelkader Amara, who is suing magazine editor Youssef Jajili for his article on the official's alleged misuse of taxpayer funds.
    Kate WoodsomeMohamed Elshinnawi

    What happens when a trade minister, entrusted with public funds, spends them on an extravagant hotel room service bill? If you guessed, "Journalist who publicizes the bill ends up facing prison time," you'd be right. At least in Morocco.

    That's the situation Moroccan investigative journalist Youssef Jajili is in. The founder and editor of Alaan Magazine printed a copy of Abdelkader Amara’s hotel bill from an official visit he made to Burkina Faso. The bill shows the minister spent nearly US$1,000 in taxpayer funds on a room service meal that, according to Jajili's source, included two bottles of champagne for the Muslim official.

    Amara says Jajili made up the story and is suing him for criminal defamation in a case media rights groups say exemplifies the government’s failure to make promised political reforms and its campaign to silence independent journalists.

    Reconciliation?

    A judge in a Casablanca suburb on Monday postponed the trial for a month, giving the two parties time for “reconciliation.”

    Jajili says if reconciliation requires an apology on his part, it’s not going to happen - even if he has to go to prison.

    “Why [would] I write an excuse? I didn’t do any fault. I didn’t do any bad thing. I just did my job as a journalist,” he said in a telephone interview from Casablanca.

    “I think it was a good story for Moroccan people to know the reality of this minister,” he said of the June article. “In Morocco, drink [alcohol] is illegal … At the same time, he [buys] two bottles of champagne with the money of the Moroccan people.”

    Journalist Youssef Jajili, as he appears on his Twitter profile @YoussefJajili.Journalist Youssef Jajili, as he appears on his Twitter profile @YoussefJajili.
    x
    Journalist Youssef Jajili, as he appears on his Twitter profile @YoussefJajili.
    Journalist Youssef Jajili, as he appears on his Twitter profile @YoussefJajili.

    Twenty-nine year-old Jajili grew up poor and established his weekly magazine last April to expose what he considers government hypocrisy that is keeping Moroccans impoverished.

    A rare breed

    He is one of few investigative reporters in a country where advertising boycotts, criminal defamation suits, prison terms, fines and even physical assault are putting independent journalists out of business.

    “There are fewer and fewer, and even those who were really strong, independent media are not as strong as before. They’re a bit tired of being all the time harassed and facing difficulties,” said Soazig Dollet, in charge of the Maghreb region for Reporters Without Borders.

    The Paris-based group ranked Morocco 136 out of 179 countries on its 2013 Press Freedom Index that came out Wednesday.

    Dollet said in the weeks leading up to the index’s release, Moroccan authorities sent her “tons and tons of documents” about how much press freedom has improved.

    “I know the Moroccan authorities are really concerned about the image,” she said, adding that Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane was careful to avoid a question about the defamation case during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week.

    “The prime minister said he was not aware, which is not possible,” she said.

    Dodging a request from the head of Human Rights Watch to stop criminalizing defamation, Benkirane instead pointed to the progress made.

    “Only one year after the elections, which were held on the 29 of November [2011], if there was only one trial ... for someone who engaged in defamation, then I think that that shows that there have been no violations of the law in Morocco when it comes to the media compared to how things were a few years ago in Morocco and other countries,” Benkirane said.


    Scroll to 44:20 to watch the Moroccan leader discuss defamation.

    A muted Arab Spring

    Morocco has not suffered the deadly unrest that overturned governments in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, but it has experienced its own kind of Arab Spring in the form of the February 20 Youth Movement.

    Frustrated Moroccans took to the streets two years ago, demanding democracy, a constitutional monarchy and an end to corruption and press censorship.
    Anti-government protesters shout during a rally organized by the Moroccan Arab Spring movement in Casablanca, Nov 20, 2011.Anti-government protesters shout during a rally organized by the Moroccan Arab Spring movement in Casablanca, Nov 20, 2011.
    x
    Anti-government protesters shout during a rally organized by the Moroccan Arab Spring movement in Casablanca, Nov 20, 2011.
    Anti-government protesters shout during a rally organized by the Moroccan Arab Spring movement in Casablanca, Nov 20, 2011.

    Anxious to avoid the fate of his neighbors, Moroccan King Mohammed VI promised sweeping constitutional reforms that would curb his powers and called an early parliamentary election that ushered in the country’s first Islamic government lead by the Justice and Development Party.

    It was a smart move, according to Moshen Shawarby, a corruption and governance consultant who worked with both Moroccan authorities and the United Nations from 2009 to 2012.

    “It’s a good PR party,” he said of the JDP’s public relations savvy. “They approached the people by making a lot of promises. They said they would offer social welfare, insurance policies, help for the poor. The people were happy at first. There was a lot of positive media.”

    But the honeymoon may be ending.

    New government, old problems

    “Now the people are experiencing a problem of rising expectations. It’s really a matter of time before it’s realized they haven’t cashed in on any of the promises,” Shawarby said.

    He said the new government has inherited the problems of the old, specifically public funds being used for private gain.

    So when journalists like Youssef Jajili start asking questions, it makes the new government nervous that other journalists will start digging into even weightier issues, according to Shawarby.

    He said it would be in the government's interest to drop the charges because if Jajili is "punished or jailed, it'll be serious negative publicity for the Islamic party."

    Signing on to democracy

    Jajili’s international supporters are hoping the Moroccan king will make the same calculation. Amber Lyon, a U.S.-based investigative journalist who was banned from Bahrain for reporting on the protests there, has started a petition to “Save Youssef.”

    “The king has made reforms and he has been promoting Morocco as a democracy internationally,” she said. “And the greatest barometer for the health of democracy is freedom of press.”

    Although Jajili faces up to a year in prison if convicted, he is still working and encouraging other reporters to stay brave. It’s a bit hard, he says, because government officials are boycotting the magazine’s requests for interviews.

    Trade Minister Amara has not responded to our own requests for an interview. 


    He has accused Jajili in the Moroccan press of fabricating the story. On his Facebook page, Amara says he plans to prosecute “any person directly or indirectly involved in this action, which attacks my honor and dignity, and the honor of my position, my family and my party.”

    Jajili returns to court on February 25. While he waits, the journalist says he has a bad feeling.

    “It’s a bad feeling because I don’t know the end of this story."

    You May Like

    Native Americans Ask: What About Our Water Supply?

    They say they have been facing a dangerous water contaminant for decades - uranium – but the problem has received far less attention than water contamination by lead in Flint, Michigan

    Pakistan's President Urges Nation Not to Celebrate Valentine's Day

    Mamnoon Hussain criticizes Valentine's Day, which falls on Sunday this year, as a Western import that threatens to undermine the Islamic values of Pakistan

    Mother of IS Supporter: Son Was Peaceful, 'Role Model'

    Somali-American Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame pleaded guilty Thursday to charges of conspiring to provide material support to Islamic State militants

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.