A Casablanca court adjourned newspaper editor Ahmed Benchemsi’s trial again during a second hearing on 31 August. The prosecutor requested an adjournment until 7 November in order to be able to demonstrate that he has a previous conviction.
The editor of the sister weeklies Nichane and Tel Quel, Benchemsi is being tried on a charge of “disrespect for the king.” He received a suspended prison sentence for libel in 2005 and could therefore go to jail if convicted this time.
His lawyers opposed the adjournment, say the case was ready to be tried.
07.08 - Casablanca newspaper editor faces up to five years in prison for criticising king’s speech
Reporters Without Borders is outraged that Ahmed Benchemsi, the editor of the Arabic-language weekly Nichane and its sister French-language weekly Tel Quel, was charged yesterday with “disrespect for the king” under article 41 of the press law.
“Benchemsi is a fervent defender of a bold and independent press that has been able to break many of the taboos imposed on Morocco’s journalists,” the press freedom organisation said. “His boldness clearly continues to upset the country’s most senior officials.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “Both media owners and printers are subjected to a great deal of political and financial pressure. The repressive media law offers the courts many ways to convict journalists. It also allows the authorities to seize and destroy entire issues without any possible recourse for the victims. Virtually all of the journalists prosecuted under article 41 in recent years have been convicted. In fact, journalists never win when they are tried by the state.”
Benchemsi received a summons from the Casablanca judicial police for the first time on 4 August after the latest issue of Nichane had been seized from news stands on the orders of Prime Minister Driss Jettou. He was questioned late into the night and was summoned for further questioning the next day.
The police also went to the IDEALE printers in Casablanca on 5 August, seizing all the copies of Tel Quel and destroying them, this time on the orders of interior minister Chakib Benmoussa. And they questioned one of the people in charge of the printing press.
Benchemsi was summoned by the police for the third day in a row yesterday, when he was taken before Casablanca prosecutors and notified that he was being charged with “disrespect for the king” because of an editorial in both weeklies in which he criticised a 30 July speech by King Mohammed about the legislative elections scheduled for 7 September.
As the latest issue was a special one for the month of August, a total of 50,000 copies of each of the two weeklies had been printed. Benchemsi estimates that their confiscation will cost him nearly 130,000 euros.
IDEALE owner Youssef Ajana told Reporters Without Borders that Moroccan printers are nowadays in a “delicate situation.” He told Agence France-Presse he sent the authorities a copy of the latest issue of another weekly, Journal Hebdomadaire, “for advice and as a precaution.” As a result, its distribution was delayed.
Under article 41 of the press law, anyone insulting the king or a member of the royal family can be sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 dirhams (10,000 euros). Many journalists have been convicted under this article, which has been in effect since 2002.
Benchemsi’s trial is scheduled to open on 24 August