Journalists face jail over 'anti-Muslim' jokes

Two Moroccan journalists who face up to five years in prison for publishing a series of jokes about the prophet Muhammad have defended their decision to ‘go to press’.

Driss Kskikes, editor of the Arabic-language weekly Nichane, and his journalist Sanna al-Aji yesterday insisted they had not intended to offend anyone or anything by publishing the jokes.

“I have always respected religion and society," Al Aji told the judge, according to the Middle East Online news agency.

The pair appeared before a courtroom in Casablanca on charges of “damaging Islam” and “publishing and distributing writings contrary to morals and customs.”

Their charges stem from December’s edition of Nichane that featured a 10-page article, entitled "Jokes: How Moroccans laugh at religion, sex and politics?"

The piece featured jokes about the Prophet Muhammad and remarks about the late king Hassan II, which judicial sources have reportedly branded ‘prejudicial to the Islamic religion.’

But Al Aji, who wrote the offending article, said: “All I did is report to readers a phenomenon Moroccans are seeing in jokes and anecdotes."

Meanwhile, Mr Ksikes said he was surprised by the severity of the sentences requested by the prosecutor.

“We are being tried under the press law, but the prosecutor requested a ban on our working, which is only envisaged under criminal law,” he told Reporters Without Borders.

The press freedom group condemned the charges and the possibility both journalists could face up to five years in jail, in addition to a fine of up to 100,00 dirhams – about £6,000.

“We are shocked by this insane indictment and we hope the court will not follow the archaic and ultra-repressive position being adopted by the prosecutor,” the Paris-based group said.

“The Moroccan courts already took a medieval decision by banning journalist Ali Lmrabet from writing for 10 years and we dare not believe this will be repeated with Nichane.”

The group added that such state control over the press illustrates the “gulf” between “talk of a modern and democratic Morocco” and the reality that the country’s journalists actually face.

Prime Minister Driss Jettou shut down Nichan on December 21, when the offending issue was withdrawn from news stands, before he banned any further distribution of the magazine.


10th January 2007

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