North Africa – A journalist accused of “inviting” people to take part in banned protests in the restive north of Morocco has been sentenced to three months in jail. A tough Moroccan court on Tuesday sentenced Hamid El Mahdaoui, his website said.
El Mahdaoui was arrested on Thursday before the start of a banned demonstration in the northern city of Al-Hoceima, at which time protesters clashed with police.
El Mahdaoui, who leads the Badil online news site, was found guilty for organizing “a non-authorized march” as well as having “invited” others to take part in the protest, the website said.
Apart from the jail sentence, he has been fined 20,000 dirhams (1,800 euros), but Badil said he could appeal the verdict.
El Mahdaoui, known for criticizing authorities particularly in self-made videos posted on YouTube, has been facing prosecution after two government ministers accused him of defamation.
Meanwhile, several media watchdog groups have fiercely denounced his arrest and accused Moroccan authorities of hindering the coverage of unrest in the Rif region, where Al-Hoceima, which has been shaken by protests for months, is located.
In a statement Saturday, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the situation for Moroccan and foreign journalists covering events in northern Morocco “keeps on getting worse.”
“By trying to prevent coverage of the Rif protests, the Moroccan authorities are gradually turning this region into a no-go zone for independent media,” it said.
On Friday, the US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for El Mahdaoui release and urged Moroccan authorities to drop all charges against Badil.
The Al-Hirak al-Shaabi protest movement was born last October after a fishmonger was crushed to death in a rubbish truck as he tried to retrieve swordfish confiscated for being caught out of season.
The event led to a call for justice which later on turned into a wider social movement with demands for jobs, development, and an end to corruption in the mainly Berber region.