I have been reading comments on a few Moroccan blogs about the Mohammed Erraji affair, and while the majority of people support Erraji’s right to free expression, I have to say I’m appalled at the way in which some of the commenters excuse the government and blame the victim. The angry responses range from attacks on the blogger for breaking the law (by, apparently, expressing his opinion) to attacks on his website for being trashy (it’s true it’s a tabloid, but if you want to read lies and omissions any day of the week, you could do no worse than the government rag). It’s disheartening.
Last Wednesday, the Moroccan blogger Mohamed Erraji penned a column for the website Hespress, in which he criticized King Mohammed for what he called “policies of charity” that are “destroying the country.” On Thursday, Erraji was reportedly questioned over the column. On Friday, he was arrested in Agadir for “lack of respect due to the king.” And, on Monday, he was brought to court for trial, fined 5,000 dirhams, and sentenced to two years in prison.
The column itself is available in Arabic here, in English here, and in French here. It starts with an anecdote about the king giving a policeman a transportation license (such licenses guarantee some income for life), then questions whether such practices encourage the creation of an independent society.
The arrest marks the first time anyone has been arrested for a blog post in Morocco, and, given the Moroccan government’s touchiness, I can guarantee it is not the last time. But I would like to make one small point: Erraji’s criticism is quite mild compared with what one can read in such French-language Moroccan magazines as Tel Quel or Le Journal. But these publications enjoy the support of many international groups (such as Reporters Without Borders) and so the government often has to think twice before arresting one of their journalists or editors. But because Erraji writes in Arabic, and because he writes for Hespress, a website whose quality is quite questionable (it’s very populist and sometimes inaccurate), and because he is not part of the connected elite, his right to freedom of expression has simply been denied and his case has been even more bungled than usual.
A website has been set up to defend Erraji: Help Erraji. I wish there was also a website to help Morocco get a clue on press freedom.
I doubt if Ahmed Herzenni, the president of the Advisory Council on Human Rights (CCDH), who was visiting the United States to speak to the Moroccan community about his organization’s work, expected the reception he ended up getting in Washington, DC. The Moroccans in attendance asked him pointed questions about the kingdom’s appalling record on human rights, the lack of independence of the judiciary, the elections, and so on. A couple of the attendees got very upset. You can watch video segments from the meeting here. (Scroll on the right hand side to see all five videos.)