Over 50 groups call for release of Ali Anouzla

Friday, September 20, 2013

Her Excellency Nouzha Chekrouni, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco to Canada
Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco to Canada
38 Range Road
Ottawa, ON
K1N 8J4
Canada

Dear Ambassador,

I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world.

CJFE adds its voice to over 50 undersigned freedom of expression and press freedom organizations to call on the authorities in Morocco to immediately release Ali Anouzla, editor of the Arabic edition of the news website Lakome, who was arrested on 17 September 2013, in connection with an article published on his website.

According to information available to us, police arrested Ali Anouzla at his home and seized computers and hard drives from the journalist's home and the offices of Lakome. We understand that the journalist is currently being held in Casablanca, pending charges.

Anouzla was arrested in connection with a 13 September news article published on the Arabic edition of Lakome, which included a link to a video posted on the website of the leading Spanish daily El País. The video, embedded from YouTube, allegedly sharply criticized King Mohammed VI of Morocco, accusing him of despotism and corruption, and called on Moroccan youth to engage in jihad. YouTube has since removed the video.

While Lakome's article was critical of the video, on 17 September, Morocco's general prosecutor stated that the video was “a clear invitation and a direct incitement to take part in acts of terrorism in the Moroccan kingdom” and that publishing threats from Al-Qaeda was a criminal action. He added that victims of terrorist attacks in Morocco had requested the authorities to initiate a judicial investigation into several newspapers that had reposted the video. However, Lakome did not post the video itself, but only a link to a website containing the video.

The Moroccan Ministry of Justice also reportedly said it would take legal action against El País.

The French edition of Lakome also published an article on the same day as the Arabic edition that included a direct link to the YouTube video, but its editor has reportedly not faced any official charges or harassment in connection with the article.

We are concerned that Ali Anouzla was singled out for linking to media content, which was already widely available through other sources, and that the Moroccan authorities may decide to prosecute him under the country's sweeping anti-terrorism law, which has been criticised for failing to uphold international fair trial guarantees.

We also remind the Moroccan authorities that under international legal standards, restriction of the right to freedom of expression for reasons of national security, including under anti-terrorism legislation, must meet certain conditions known as the “three-part test” developed by the UN Human Rights Committee. National security cannot be used as a pretext for imposing vague or arbitrary limitations, such as in this case, and may only be invoked when there exists adequate safeguards and effective remedies against abuse. As highlighted in the Johannesburg Principles, developed in 1995 by a group of international experts, expression may be regarded as a threat to national security only if a government can demonstrate that the expression is intended to incite imminent violence; is likely to incite such violence; and that there is a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence.

Lakome is well known for its extensive coverage of corruption and abuses within the Moroccan government since its establishment in 2010. Anouzla has been investigated multiple times by the Moroccan authorities in connection with the website's coverage, most recently in June after he accused the Moroccan intelligence services of instigating a smear campaign against him.

We call on the Moroccan authorities to immediately release Ali Anouzla and allow the country's media to participate in public debate on issues of great public concern to Morocco.

We thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Arnold Amber, CJFE President

Committee to Protect Journalists
Africa Freedom of Information Centre
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen/Alliance of Independent Journalists
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
ARTICLE 19
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Cambodian Center for Human Rights
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Espacio Público
Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP
Freedom House
Globe International
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
International Press Institute
International Publishers Association
Journaliste en danger
Maharat Foundation
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa
Media Rights Agenda
Norwegian PEN
Pacific Islands News Association
PEN International
Public Association "Journalists"
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
West African Journalists Association
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers
World Press Freedom Committee
Adala (Justice) Association, Morocco
Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)
Citizens Assembly, Morocco
Community Media Solutions
Free Press Unlimited
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
International Media Support (IMS)
Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI)
Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism
Nawaat.org
Regional Center for Training and Development of Civil Society, Sudan
Tunis Center for Press Freedom
Tunisian League to Defend Human Rights
Tunisian Association of Democratic Women
Vigilance Association for Democracy and the Civic State

Cc: Her Excellency, Sandra McCardell, Ambassador of Canada to the Kingdom of Morocco
The Honourable John Baird, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs