On the eve of Hillary Clinton’s departure to
The cartoon, which authorities claim features an incomplete green six-pointed star instead of the traditional five-pointed star superimposed onto the red background of the Moroccan flag, was interpreted by authorities as being “blatantly disrespectful to a member of the royal family,” and an insult to the national flag.
While the specific issue containing the cartoon was freely circulated over the weekend, the police arrived at the newspaper’s offices on a Sunday night, seized unsold copies and the next day’s issues and, in blatant disregard to legal procedure, ordered the newspaper’s offices to be shut down. While the Moroccan press law allows the Ministry of Interior to seize and prevent the distribution of a specific issue, only a legal judgment can justify the shuttering of a newspaper or the freezing of its bank accounts.
On October 30, editor Taoufik
Bouachrine and cartoonist Khalid Gueddar were tried for the two offenses in
two different trials. The first trial dealt with the offense of "defiling
the national flag," an act made recently explicitly punishable by law
after supporters of the Polisario independence movement burned the Moroccan
flag during demonstrations in the disputed
Authorities have shown little respect for the rule of law and subsequently banned three successive issues of the French daily Le Monde and an issue of the Spanish daily El Pais for publishing cartoons that were published in solidarity with Akhbar al-Youm.
This year has been a rough one for Moroccan publications; in August, weeklies Nichane and TelQuel, as well as French daily Le Monde were banned for publishing results of a poll indicating that 91 percent of Moroccans approve of the king. Nichane was also banned for two months in 2007 following its publication of popular Moroccan jokes, many of which were deemed to be in violation of the Moroccan press code for insulting Islam and the king. And just last week, two journalists from the Arabic-language weekly Al Massae received prison sentences for “publication of false information” connected to the dismantling of a drug trafficking network.
As for Akhbar al-Youm, as the newspaper was not explicitly banned, publishers attempted to print a new issue on November 1, but reported on its Twitter stream that the issue was also seized by authorities. Instead, the newspaper continues to publish online, and the site remains accessible through all Moroccan Internet Service Providers. In a piece titled "The Kingdom of Fear of the Press," editors gave a scathing account of Morocco's press crackdown, stating: "Gentlemen, the problems of Morocco are not in the pens of its journalists, but in the minds of some of the men in power who are not used to the rules of the game nor to the rules of democracy."
Bouachrine, the newspaper’s editor, has vowed to re-launch the newspaper under a new name, Akhbar Al Youm al Maghribia, and has applied for the necessary licenses. He and the cartoonist Khalid Gueddar have also decided to appeal the courts’ decisions.