Morocco journalist faces trial for Western Sahara comments

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Human rights groups have warned of a crackdown on freedom of speech in Morocco as one of the country’s few independent journalists prepared to appear in court this week on charges of aiding and abetting terrorism.

Ali Anouzla, the editor of the Arabic news website Lakome, faces up to 20 years in prison if found guilty, in what Amnesty International described as a “worrying setback for freedom of expression”.

Moroccan journalist Ali Anouzla

He was arrested last month after posting an article on the terrorist threat in Morocco which included a link to an al-Qaida video criticising the wealth of King Mohammed VI and calling for an uprising. He was held in a high-security prison until last Friday, when he was released on bail before a court hearing on Wednesday.

The prosecution service opened an investigation after he mentioned the Western Sahara as one of three red lines for Moroccan journalists in an interview published last month in the German newspaper Bild, he said.

Bild reported that he listed these limits as “the monarchy, Islam and the occupied Western Sahara”.

Anouzla is charged with providing material support to, and apologising for, terrorism, but his supporters say these claims are a gross distortion of the truth. His colleague, and long-term campaigner for freedom of speech, Aboubakr Jamaï, said : “The state is using all its resources to put an independent journalist in prison on horrific charges in order to destroy his reputation and that of Lakome.”

The editor has remained silent since being released on bail, when he was greeted by a small gathering of friends and supporters, but his lawyer said that he continued to maintain his innocence.

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