Friday, October 29, 2010

Morocco Suspends Al-Jazeera's Operations

Al-Jazeera's Moroccan operations have been suspended by the Moroccan authorities. Here is an article from Al-Jazeera's English language website that offers an analysis of the situation.

Morocco curbs Al Jazeera operations

"Failure to follow rules of responsible journalism" cited by kingdom for withdrawing staff's press accreditations.
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2010 19:40 GMT

Morocco has suspended Al Jazeera's operations in the country by withdrawing the press accreditations of the network's staff based there.

The Moroccan communications ministry said in a statement on Friday that the sanctions followed "numerous failures in following the rules of serious and responsible journalism".

A government official who declined to be named said the authorities took exception "to the way Al Jazeera handles the issues of Islamists and Western Sahara".

The Moroccan statement, which was reported by the official MAP news agency, said Al Jazeera's broadcasts had "seriously distorted Morocco's image and manifestly damaged its interests, most notably its territorial integrity".

Al Jazeera had showed a "determination to only broadcast from our country negative facts and phenomena in a deliberate effort to minimise Morocco's efforts in all aspects of development and to knowing belittle its achievements and progress on democracy", the statement said.

Separatist movement

A former Spanish colony, Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco in 1975. The move was violently opposed by separatist Polisario fighters until the UN brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

Polisario wants a UN-organised referendum that would give the Sahrawi people three choices: attachment to Morocco, independence or autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty.

Morocco backs the option of broad autonomy for the territory, but rejects any notion of independence for Western Sahara.

"It's a very surprising decision from the government, especially because there was no legal background. It's just a very administrative and political decision," Vincent Brossel of Reporters without Borders told Al Jazeera from Paris.

He said that RSF "suspect that this decision is linked to the way your channel has been covering different issues, especially the Western Sahara, and I think it's mainly because you open your microphone to all sides, and not only the government's side".

"I think it's mainly because you are doing your job, which is quite unfair."

The government recently prevented a Spanish journalist from travelling to the Western Sahara, Brossel noted.

"It's unfortunately a sort of new trend in Morocco. When foreign media is doing its job, you can be in trouble".

Strained relations

In July 2008, Al Jazeera's Morocco bureau chief at the time, Hassan al Rashidi, was convicted for what the government called "disseminating false information".

Rachidi was charged with reporting that people were killed in clashes with security forces in the southwestern port city of Sidi Ifni on June 7 during a protest over poverty and rising unemployment.

Moroccan authorities rejected the reports of deaths, saying that 48 people were injured, including 28 police officers.

Although Al Jazeera reported the government's denial, the Rabat chief prosecutor’s office ordered an inquiry to determine how the false information was disseminated.

Rachidi was interrogated by the judiciary police for four hours and was charged on June 14 with publishing false information and conspiracy. Minutes later, the Moroccan communication ministry withdrew his media accreditation.

Rachidi avoided jail time but was fined nearly $7,000. The Moroccan government did not give any reason for this latest decision.

The trial and the confiscation of Rachidi's press accreditation further damaged the already strained relations between Morocco and the channel.

In May 2008, Morocco suspended Al Jazeera's daily television news bulletin covering the Maghreb countries [Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania] from its studios in Rabat.

The decision, according to Khalid Naciri, the Moroccan communication minister and spokesman for the government, was due to technical and legal issues.

More than 2,000 alleged political activists have been arrested and sentenced in Morocco since the Casablanca bombings of May 16, 2003.

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