New York — Moroccan authorities should immediately release Badil Editor-in-Chief Hamid al-Mahdaoui, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Police arrested al-Mahdaoui yesterday as he traveled to the Rif area of northern Morocco to cover protests, according to one of the journalist's colleagues and news reports.
A statement issued yesterday by prosecutors in the city of al-Hoceima said that al-Mahdaoui is accused of giving a speech that "incites participation in a banned protest" and "breaking the law through speeches and shouting in public places," according to news reports.
Al-Mahdaoui was questioned in court today and is due to appear for an arraignment tomorrow, according to Badil reporter Omar Benaddi.
Police arrested al-Mahdaoui as he headed to demonstrations organized by the anti-corruption movement al-Hirak al-Shaaby, (The Popular Movement), Benaddi told CPJ. Police took the journalist to their headquarters in al-Hoceima, according to the reports. The city has been at the center of protests since the death of a fishmonger who was crushed in a garbage truck while trying to recover fish that police confiscated from him in October 2016. At least two other journalists have been arrested while covering the protests, CPJ has found.
"Moroccan authorities should release Hamid al-Mahdaoui and drop all charges against the journalist," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Journalists in Morocco should be free to report on matters of public importance without fear of reprisal."
Benaddi, who has spoken with al-Mahdaoui's lawyer, told CPJ that the journalist denies the charges. Witnesses said that al-Mahdoui did not give any speeches and that the police car appeared to be following the journalist's car before his arrest, according to Benaddi and news reports. CPJ was unable to find contact information for al-Mahdaoui's lawyer.
Prosecutors said in their statement that al-Mahdaoui's arrest is not connected to his journalism. Government spokesperson Moustapha Khalfi and the Moroccan embassy in Washington D.C. did not immediately respond to CPJ's emails requesting comment.
Al-Mahdaoui has faced legal action previously in relation to Badil's coverage, CPJ has found. Last month, Moroccan Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit filed a criminal defamation complaint against al-Mahdaoui over a video in which the journalist alleged that Laftit is involved in corruption. In 2015, the journalist was handed a four-month suspended prison sentence and he and a co-defendant were ordered to pay a combined 100,000 Moroccan dirhams (US$10,290) in damages for criminal defamation. Also in 2015, a Moroccan court ordered Badil to shut for three months and al-Mahdaoui to pay a fine in relation to a report on a car bombing that the government claimed was false.