The trial of Hassan Rachidi, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Morocco, is due to begin at Rabat First Instance Court on Tuesday.
Because he reported that on June 7 people were killed in clashes with security forces, in the southwestern port city of Sidi Ifni in a protest over poverty and rising unemployment, Mr Rachidi faces charges of “false information and conspiracy”.
The offence is punishable by a prison term of between one and twelve months and a fine of up to $13,750.
Even though the defence team is expected to ask the court for postponement, in order to better prepare the case, the court hearing is set to begin at 11h00 (1000 GMT) on Tuesday.
Reports of deaths in the Sidi Ifni prostest were “false” and “absurd”, said Moroccan authorities. According to them, 48 people were injured, including 28 police officers, but no deaths occurred.
Despite the fact that Al Jazeera reported the government’s denial, a probe to determine how the false information was disseminated has been ordered by the Rabat chief prosecutor’s office.
For four hours, the judiciary police interrogated Mr Rachidi, who was charged with publishing false information and conspiracy on June 14.
Then, his media accreditation in the country has been withdrew by the Moroccan communication ministry.
Rachidi is facing prosecution under Article 42 of the country’s press code.
“The press code requires that two conditions be satisfied in order to convict someone for publishing false information under Article 42”, Khalid Soufiani, defence team leader, explained to Al Jazeera.
“The first condition is the publication of false information with the intention of bad faith and, second, that that publication disturbs the public order”, Soufiani said.
So the prosecution must prove that, by publishing a story knowing that it was false, Mr Rachidi acted in bad faith, said the defence team leader.
Rachidi will plead not guilty to the charges.
Al Jazeera’s daily news bulletin, covering the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania) from its studios in the Moroccan capital has been suspended by Morocco in May.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the action, calling it “inexplicable”.
“We need to have a clear explanation about why Al Jazeera is suspended. If there is no convincing reason then this will be seen as a political act of interference in media. That is unacceptable and intolerable for journalism in Morocco and for media throughout the region”, said Younes M’jahed, IFJ vice president and president of the national syndicate of Moroccan press (SNPM).
The decision was due to technical and legal issues, acording to Khalid Naciri, the Moroccan communication minister and official spokesman of the government.
“There’s no room for giving this decision a political dimension”, Mr Naciri was quoted as saying at a news conference in early May.