Salah Elayoubi, former columnist for the news website Lakome.com (a newspaper censored by the Moroccan authorities for its editorial opposition to the Moroccan regime’s authoritarianism) makes public, via this interview, his views on the current state of journalism Morocco and that of human rights in general. – a situation that borders on schizophrenia for the country which will officially host the World Forum on Human Rights Nov. 27-30 in Marrakech while repression is in full swing against peaceful pro-democracy movements and organizations.
On November 2, 2014, the world celebrated the second International Day of the End of Impunity for crimes against journalists, an event set in stone thanks to Resolution A/RES/68/163, adopted on Dec. 18 2013 by the General Assembly of the United Nations, at its sixty-eighth session. The safety of journalists and the issue of impunity are central to this Resolution to which Morocco was one of the first signatories. But with the dramatic increase in cases of violations against journalists in Morocco since the signing of this resolution, we wanted to understand why the Moroccan authorities so much enjoy maintaining contradictions concerning the critical issues related to democracy and good governance –
Rida Benotmane: At its sixty-eighth session in 2013, the General Assembly adopted resolution A / RES / 68/163, which proclaimed November 2, International Day of the end of the impunity for crimes against journalists. The resolution urged Member States to take specific measures to combat the culture of impunity. Does the Moroccan government seem to you to have taken this resolution seriously — to protect journalists in its own territory?
Salah Elayoubi: Mohammed VI’s regime does not care. This is an authoritarian regime which, through systematic alignment with the positions of Western powers, such as France and the US, to name just a few, enjoy their unconditional support. As such, it cares very little about protecting journalists who are not under its influence or who criticize its practices. And when denunciations start pouring in, as in the case of Ali Anouzla it steers away from them instinctively, “forgetting,” as if by magic, the judicial prosecution the government itself had initiated. The case of Spanish journalist Ignacio Cembrero is indicative of how unimportant Morocco considers freedom of the press, even when it comes to foreign press, if ever it dares to denounce their abuses. The regime even gave proof of a cynicism unmatched by any other, by hosting in Marrakech from Nov. 27-30, 2014, a global forum of human rights, at the very moment that Morocco has been denounced by almost all important international organizations. The feeling of impunity is so strong in the security forces, that they don’t even feel the need to go after these organizations, like when Amnesty International was banned from holding its youth camp that was planned for September in Bouznika. I am not even speaking about the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) which was targeted by more than thirty bans lately.
R.B. According to you, does the Moroccan state condemn, as it should, crimes against journalists and media workers?
S.E. The answer is to be found in the very question itself! We are still waiting to get the sequel, from the Moroccan judiciary, to the complaint filed by Ahmed Benseddik, following death threats against him. Every day, the newspapers and electronic publications report insults, defamation or thinly-veiled threats against other journalists and activists, without ever considering it appropriate to carry out an investigation or pursue the perpetrators of these crimes. We also remember that any individual wielding an ax or any other, carrying an automatic, in front of a camera, and uttering the worst threats against members of the Feb. 20th Movement is treated with complete impunity.
R.B. What would you view as urgent measures that the Moroccan government must adopt in order to prevent crimes against journalists?
S.E. There is nothing else to undertake except for enforcing the law, otherwise we would going into a kind of state of emergency. The Moroccan penal code is sufficiently elaborated to deter potential aggressors and protect journalists, just as it is supposed to do for other Moroccan citizens. But the authorities must absolutely be willing to enforce the law.
R.B. Do you think the current State justice can play an effective role when crimes against journalists are actually committed by State officials?
S.E. It’s all about democracy. If we had one, every person who felt wronged or a victim of illegalities committed by an official in the exercise of his functions, would be able to bring that case to court in order to assert his rights. But everyone knows that officials act on the orders of their superiors, under the umbrella of the well-known impunity, when it comes to attacking independent journalists.
R.B. What forms of interference or pressure are you acquainted with that prevent a Moroccan journalist from carrying out his professional obligations independently?
S.E. The range is quite large. It goes all the way from verbal intimidation to imprisonment, not without taking into account the huge fines, seizure of censored newspaper issues, tax penalties, wiretapping, pressure on the families, police summonses, administrative hassles, threats from the authorities. Even divorce cases can become an instrument of pressure in the hands of those who wield power.
R.B. Does a partnership between civil society and the media in Morocco seem appropriate in order to provide a sufficiently effective opposition to the currently dominant culture of impunity?
S.E. What do you mean by civil society? In the sense that it is generally understood, the term refers to a minimum of political consciousness and national consensus. There is none, or very little, in Morocco. Look at the relative indifference of the population in regard to the convictions against our brightest and most iconic journalists. Even the outcry that followed the arrest of Ali Anouzla was an epi-phenomenon. Several thousand protesters in the streets of our cities do not constitute a civil society. Remember the beating of Ali Lmrabet, right in the middle of downtown Tetouan by rogue police officers who, as a plus, brutalized Lmrabet in plain sight of everyone there. A society that leaves one of its journalists imprisoned and sentenced to a ten-year ban from his profession as a journalist, without even reacting, does not deserve the adjective civil. It takes a minimum of cohesion and honor, and patriotism, to be a civil society. Long ago the Makhzen [Morocco’s power élite] nipped all this in the bud by ripping the guts out of public education, by corruption, by buying off consciences or by sheer terror. If there were a civil society, Ahmed Benseddik, that brilliant graduate of the finest schools, obliged to transform himself into a journalist, would not be living in a 120 square foot studio apartment in the most unbearable loneliness, and where a coma nearly took him away from us for good.
R.B. Can you recall any of these egregious crimes committed against journalists and that went unpunished in Morocco?
S.E. For God’s sake, any attack on freedom of expression is a crime. There are different ways to attack journalists. Mussolini imprisoned the most vociferous among them and had them tied up in a public square, after being forced to swallow castor oil. It was a public humiliation intended to prevent them from continuing in their profession. It was in a public square that he loved so much, that Il Duce paid for his crimes, in the most horrible way, lynched by the crowd, his body desecrated. The Moroccan regime has experimented, ever since Mohammed VI came to power, with other, gentler methods, but which proved equally devastating in suffocating financially independent journalists and casting them into misery, with all sorts of schemes and legal shams. This was outright criminal behavior from which Abubakr Jamai and Ali Amar, did not ever fully recover. “Without the freedom to criticize, there can scarcely be any flattering praise, “ Beaumarchais declared. The Moroccan regime seems unable to tolerate anything else but praise. What intellectual poverty! What journalistic indigence!
R.B. How do you assess the current state of legislation to protect journalists in Morocco? Does it seem to you that the protection of journalists is the same depending on whether that activity is the Western Sahara, in Ceuta and Melilla or in other areas?
S.E. I do not know what is meant by “protective legislation” if not really an over-arching hypocrisy. Journalism in Morocco has always been a dangerous profession well, if you decided to take the opposite stance from the official line. And since you mention the Sahara issue and the two occupied territories, you might take note of the double standards maintained by the regime on these two issues. Against Spain, part of the southern flank of NATO, Morocco does not do much of anything serious, while it uses all its know-how and the brutality of its security forces against the civilian population in Western Sahara and saturates our people’s minds with lies about the alleged recognition of a “Moroccanized” Sahara advanced by the international community. No Moroccan journalist would dare tackle head on this official State lie, nor would they mention the obvious guilt of Hassan II and Mohammed VI after him, for having turned this issue into an off-limits preserve of the Palace and putting it into the hands of mediocre diplomats, who were cheats, incompetent, corrupt and corrupting, if one believes the communications hacked online by Chris Coleman. If Morocco were a democracy, those responsible for this mess would have been brought to justice.
R.B. Do you think that civil society, other than that directly affected by the problems of the press, might be interested in joining the fight against impunity?
S.E. Absolutely not! We are in the zero degree of conscience. First, because we are, overwhelmingly, an illiterate people. What percentage of this population would be affected by the press? Stroll through one of our cities and see how many people are seated in a cafe, reading a newspaper. The figure is nearly zero. Indulge in the same exercise in a European country where free newspapers are readily available, and you’ll understand the difference. We read in the bus, in subway trains, in the doctor’s waiting room and in the bathroom. And if you do not read the actual newspaper, you consult it on your Smartphone. At the same time as it devalues public school education, the Moroccan regime put in place the most insidious of poisons, with Moroccan television broadcasting programs where State lies and ignorance vie for a prize in stupidity, all the while perpetuating the victimized citizenry’s addiction to superstition and mystification.
R.B. What personalities and organizations of civil society within Morocco do you think sufficiently interesting to raise public awareness to engage in this kind of combat?
S.E. The autistic tendency evidenced by the Moroccan regime obliges us to raise the level of discourse. This is what is happening lately with countless protests across the country. Contrary to the claims of supporters of this dictatorship, Morocco is filled with a multitude of women and men of quality. The February 20th Movement was its most striking demonstration before the division in the ranks took over. The future belongs to this kind of spontaneous movement that some con artists are trying to sell us under the heading of nihilism. This is the same movement that forced the king to break his silence, giving the speech that we all remember. And even if it was followed by a sham democratic constitution, the fact remains that Sunday, February 20, 2011, was a time of terror for tyranny. The case of the Spanish pedophile [DanielGate] was another victory. The Moroccan regime fears neither being seen as ridiculous nor mobilization if it does not happen en masse, to the point of dismissing its vey existence. We must now consider our next steps.
R.B. As a journalist, what would you think is the best way to promote this global event, celebrated annually on November 2 and what might be the means of making the case for this cause before the UN which implemented it?
S.E. Several ideas could be put into action, such as a call for a general strike, a day where nothing happens, or even an arm-band day, with a strong slogan like “My newspaper, my freedom” or “Hands off my press release,” would prove excellent means of denouncing the attacks on freedom of opinion, in general, and press freedom, in particular. But I am under no illusions about the result of just such initiatives, in bending the draconian will of the Moroccan regime!
R.B. How do you see the protection and safety of journalists in the interest of greater democracy and development in Morocco?
S.E. There is no democracy without freedom of the press. When a government prepares as draconian a code as the one that surfaced in August in the parliamentary pipe-line, it demonstrates that it is as far as possible from being motivated by democratic intentions. And moreover, when a deafening silence from civil society accompanies this plan, it is clear that the threat is indeed real. This code constitutes a dramatic takeover of press freedom granted by Articles 25 and 28 of the constitution, with this de facto extension of the sacredness of the entire power pyramid, of heads of foreign States and their senior civil servants. Why not their pets, for that matter! Once again, the Moroccan regime takes with one hand, the little it has acquiesced to give with the other. As justification for this new attack on freedom of expression, the government claims that it wants to help journalists avoid prison sentences. A review of the project undermines that assertion. The huge fines envisaged only have one goal, to transform into written formulae, that which Mohammed VI’s regime has attempted ever since he took the throne: to ruin journalists and stifle them financially so as to put them permanently in the position of no longer interfering, and with the added bonus of that sword of Damocles, which is the legal consequence for non-payment of fines. We’ve now reached the antipodes of democracy! I think we should start by forcefully denouncing this draft of a code before it’s imposed upon us one of these days, without warning!
R.B. How can the Moroccan public be made aware of the importance of putting an end to impunity for crimes against journalists?
S.E. You probably know this poem by Martin Niemöller:
“When they came for the Communists,
I said nothing,
I was not a Communist.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I said nothing,
I was not a trade unionist. ”
Many Moroccans have settled into a kind of comfort that borders on cowardice and and allows them to observe the abuses of the regime and the violations of civil liberties from a safe distance, as long as they continue to believe, albeit wrongly, that all this does not concern them. One day, the security forces prey on Islamists, the next day on the leftists, the next day the on the Feb. 20th Movement activists, and so on. Remember, the manhunts organized by the police against the demonstrators who occupied the plaza in front of the parliament. The police attacked them, regardless of gender or age, even going after innocent bystanders and as far as the tables of clients seated on the terrace of Balima. Beatings of unheard-of violence, without those clients having even deigned to show the slightest objection. I even believe that some of them may have been given instructions to meet there and witness the carnage for themselves, live, the way others might go to the movies. Are they the ones whose consciousness you would like to raise?
R.B. How can the capacity of journalists to operate be reinforced through security and legal protection?
S.E. You mention journalists, as if it were a united corporation and acting in solidarity, but we exist in the exact opposite scenario. You see how many journalists have been imprisoned or harassed without it having raised the slightest emotion among their colleagues. Some did not hesitate to be generous with trumped up articles solely to bury their colleagues still deeper and defend the unthinkable. You talk of legal protection, but you would first have to have an independent judiciary and that journalists were protected from the vengeance of those in power, which is not the case in Morocco. If there were real justice, journalists would not need special protection. And if a truly independent judiciary existed in Morocco, we would know about it.
R.B. How can the role of journalists and civil society be strengthened in the fight against impunity in the Maghreb?
S.E. Journalism is supposed to be the conscience of rulers. In Morocco, the majority of journalists have chosen the camp of those who admire the regime, out of fear or gratitude to their benefactor, the powers that be. Those who chose independence have paid a high price: prison, exorbitant fines, forced exile, professional and financial ruin, bankruptcy … When we are confronted with such decay, we no longer think about strengthening anything else except our own physical security. The forces in power understood this. And they’re using it.