Hassan Rachidi (photo, from maroc-hebdo.press.ma), Al Jazeera’s Rabat bureau chief has been fined by a Moroccan court $6 000, over coverage of protest last month.
The verdict came on Friday, after Mr Rachidi was charged with publishing false imformation, when the channel aired a report in which a human rights activist claimed that protesters in the south of the country had been killed by security forces.
The government has denied anyone being killed during the demonstrations over rising food prices in the port city of Sidi Ifni.
On Thursday, Ibrahim Sabelail was sentenced to six months’ jail and a fine 1,000 dirhams ($137). He is the Moroccan rights activist who initially told journalists about the alleged abuses in Sidi Ifni last month.
He was arrested on June 27, and for reporting deaths at Sidi Ifni and having described police intervention as a “crime against humanity”, he was charged with “insulting the authorities and reporting of fictitious crimes”.
Some Moroccan newspapers and other accredited international news organisations broadcast similar reports without a reaction from Moroccan authorities.
On Thursday, about 50 Arab and international human rights organisation appealed to the Moroccan judiciary, in order to postpone sentencing in Hassan Rashidi’s case pending the completion of a fact-finding mission ordered by parliament into the Sidi Ifni event.
In a statement, the organisations said it was imperative that “the judiciary should not be party to a sensitive issue related to gross violations of human rights”. They also warned against a hurried resolution to the case and the immediate impact that it would have on freedom of press in Morocco.
Arguing that the court did not allow Mr Rachidi to present all the arguments and evidence to defend himself during the trial, the National Association of Moroccan Press had earlier protested against his trial.
After the court refused to respond to a number of demands, including hearing defence witnesses involved in the events of Sidi Ifni, included security officials headed by the interior minister, Mr Rachidi’s lawyers withdrew from the case.
“What was done by the Moroccan authorities constitutes persecution of journalists and highlights the hostile attitued of the Moroccan government toward Al Jazeera and its employees in Morocco”, said Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based press freedom watchdog, calling on Morocco to restore Mr Rachidi’s suspended press accreditation.