Press has hard time in Morocco
The matter that led to a ban on Le Monde's editions dated October 22 and October 23 was the publication of satirical cartoons considered "disrespectful" of the Moroccan royal family.
Rabat -- Morocco last week banned the French daily Le Monde in a latest crackdown on the media, which has also seen journalists sent to jail, heavy fines for the local press and foreign papers seized.
The matter that led to a ban on Le Monde's editions dated October 22 and October 23 was the publication of satirical cartoons considered "disrespectful" of the Moroccan royal family, where Prince Moulay Ismail, a cousin of King Mohammed VI, has married a German national, Anissa Lehmkuhl.
In its Thursday-Friday edition, Le Monde republished a cartoon that was printed by the Moroccan daily Akhbar Al Youm at the end of September, a day after Le Monde ran a cartoon touching on the Moroccan monarchy.
Taoufik Bouachrine and Khaled Gueddar, the managing director of Akhbar Al Youm and the Moroccan cartoonist both face legal proceedings for "the lack of respect due a member of the royal family."
At the beginning of August, the interior ministry put seals on the premises of Akhbar Al Youm, denying journalists on the paper access to their offices and shutting it down.
Le Monde was last banned in Morocco at the beginning of August for running a poll on the first 10 years in power of Mohammed VI. Copies of the Moroccan weeklies TelQuel and Nichane, which published the same poll, were seized and destroyed.
"I was constrained and forced to ban the entry to Morocco" of Le Monde, Communications Minister Khalid Naciri told AFP Friday by telephone. "We can't accept a direct attack to our sentiments, an attitude that presents Morocco as a country that kills rights. The stance of Le Monde shocked us badly."
On July 16, the French weekly Courrier International was banned, again over an article regarded as defamatory of the king of the northwest African country, who has widely been seen as a reformer improving the human rights situation after the reign of his hardline father Hassan II.
At the end of July, to mark Mohammed VI's first decade, Reporters Without Borders (RSF - Reporters sans Frontieres) presented a varied picture of the freedom of the press in Morocco, noting that "after some real progress at the beginning of his reign, setbacks and tensions multiplied, particularly after 2002."
On October 15, the managing editor of the weekly Al Michaal, Idriss Chahtane, became a victim of such tensions. For publishing contested articles on the health of the king, Chahtane was sentenced to a year's jail and slapped behind bars at once.
The next day, the supreme court sentenced Le Journal Hebdomadaire to pay damages worth 250,000 euros to a security think tank and research centre based in Brussels.
The weekly had been sentenced to pay this amount to the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center (ESISC) in February 2006, but the paper appealed, which led eventually to the supreme court decision.
In December 2005, Le Journal Hebdomadaire had published an article that questioned the objectivity of an ESISC study and of its director, Claude Moniquet.
"We're living through the end of a cycle on the freedom of the press, which began a few years ago," journalist and writer Driss Ksikes told AFP. "The political authorities consider that there's no more need to be liberal. Their concern is foreign investment. Communications are seductive and people think that this won't damage (Morocco's) overall image."
"This is a flagrant error. It shows that there is a global recession," Ksikes added. "If we continue, we'll find ourselves on the slippery slope to the Tunisian model."