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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Analysts Warn of Regional Proxy Conflict in Afghanistan

Analysts warn if Kabul’s neighbors do not start to cooperate, competing desires for influence could deteriorate into a bloody proxy war in the country More

Saudi Intelligence Chief Replaced

Bandar bin Sultan came under criticism for supporting al Qaida, prompting King Abdallah to wrest Syria operations away from him in February, handing them to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef More

Poetry Magazine editor Don Share talks what makes a good poem with VOA's David Byrd

What makes a good poem? And is poetry as viable an art form as it once was? To find out, VOA's David Byrd spoke to Don Share, the editor of Poetry Magazine. More

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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid