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

    US Leaders Who Served in Vietnam War Look Back and Ahead

    In New York Times opinion piece, Secretary of State John Kerry, Senator John McCain and former Senator Bob Kerrey say as US strengthens relations with Vietnam, it is important to remember lessons learned from war

    Trans-Adriatic Pipeline to Boost European Energy Security

    $4.5 billion-pipeline will become operational in 2020 and will deliver gas from Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz II field to southern Italy

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Annual festival showcases the region's harvested agriculture, fine wines and offers opportunities to experience the gentle breeze in a hot air balloon flight

    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.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora