“Even the simplest of daily tasks has to be carried out with great caution, because they want to catch you out for the smallest mistake to send you to prison.”
Samad Iach, 32, is an investigative journalist in Morocco. In 2011 he was coordinator of the information and communication committee of the 20 February Movement – the Moroccan version of the so-called Arab Spring - in Rabat, and with other young people maintained the Movement20 Facebook page.
On 1 March 2013, Samad was abducted while he was trying to take photographs during a royal visit to the Badr Mosque in Rabat. He was interrogated for five hours. Since then, the Moroccan government has banned him several times from leaving the country.
The National Judicial Police Brigade (BNPJ) questioned him again in Casablanca in August 2015 for ten hours, about his activities within the Moroccan Association of Investigative Journalism (AMJI) and about his relations with the Freedom Now collective and the Digital Rights Association (ADN).
Now he is being prosecuted by the Moroccan state, together with six other journalists and human rights activists. They will appear before the Court of First Instance in Rabat on 23 March 2016 charged with “breaching internal State security” and “illegal foreign funding”.
“I risk five years in prison just because I live in a country where the political system does not accept our activities and our articles,” Samad told Equal Times.
The investigative journalist Hicham Mansouri, 36, is also due to stand trial. He has already spent ten months in prison for his investigation into state surveillance of the online activities of Moroccan political activists. Released on 17 January 2016, he is due to return to court where he risks finding himself behind bars again.
“I am not reassured to see the judge who put me in prison assigned to this trial too,” admits Hicham.
“In a country where a lot of ’honest’ judges admit themselves that the justice system is not independent and is used by the authorities for repressive ends, there is only one explanation: the decision will be taken elsewhere”.
According to the Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), over 40 journalists were prosecuted in 2015 alone.
The Alkarama Foundation says that torture and ill-treatment are still “standard practice” for “cases involving state security”.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says that the charges against the journalists are aimed at silencing freedom of the press, as well as freedom of information – even though both things are guaranteed in the 2011 Moroccan Constitution.
“It is impossible for Moroccan journalists to touch the three red lines, namely the monarchy, Western Sahara and Islam,” explains Yasmine Kacha, head of the RSF’s North Africa bureau, in an interview with Equal Times.
“These red lines are also used against any media professional who criticises the regime. This situation seriously undermines the position of the independent Moroccan journalist”.
Morocco ranks 130th out of 180 countries on RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.
An illusion of democracy
A new Constitution was adopted by referendum in July 2011. It was aimed at strengthening human rights in the country. Morocco also ratified international pacts and conventions aimed. amongst other things, at banning cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and at combating forced disappearances.
However, several civil society organisations have remarked that these commitments are applied selectively, particularly when it comes to the freedom of the press, the provisions for which are set out in Article 28 of the Constitution.
“What particularly concerns us is the massive amount of surveillance technology acquired by the Moroccan authorities in recent years. These technologies are used to control exchanges and communication between journalists, and journalists and citizens, or to block certain sites,” says Kacha.
“I am kept under 24-hour surveillance and when I travel I risk being threatened. I can’t contact my sources,” adds Samad, who now works for Lakome2.com.
“My telephone calls are listened to, so it is difficult to communicate by telephone. Even access to administrative information is complicated when I am carrying out an investigation, which raises the question of access to information in Morocco.”
Samad confirms that he found spyware on his computer last April. “My first Facebook account was also pirated. I created a second one and I have already noticed several attempts at pirating it.”
Ali Anouzla, the Editor-in-Chief of Lakome2.com and winner of the 2015 Raif Badawi prize, also bears witness to the harassment by Moroccan authorities of independent journalists. “It is a daily struggle. It’s like crossing a minefield. We never know when something is going to blow up.”
The man who is recognised by the RSF as one of its “100 information heroes” has been prosecuted repeatedly and is due to appear in court again in Rabat on Thursday 22 March, a day before his colleagues.
“Unfortunately I cannot write freely on my own site and I tend to censor my colleagues and self-censor my own work a lot. It is independent journalism at the minimum level.”
There is an online petition calling on the Moroccan authorities to drop their prosecutions of the journalists and human rights defenders and to live up to their commitment to protect the exercise of civil and political rights.
This article has been translated from French.