By Samantha Ciarmaitaro

I. Introduction


The flag of Morocco.

According to the Reporters Without Borders 2015 World Press Freedom Index, Morocco has diminished speech and press freedoms in the past decade, dropping its ranking from 89 out of 180 in 2002 to 136 in 2014. However, recently Morocco appears to be making slight improvements as shown through the country’s newest ranking of 130 in the 2015 freedom index report. Nonetheless, the Moroccan government is still reported to have zero tolerance towards anything deemed in opposition of the government or king as many individuals charged with such a crime face swift sentencing and harsh punishments (World Report 2016).

II. Historical Background

The kingdom of Morocco is located along the Northern African Coast off the North Atlantic Ocean with a population of roughly 33 million according to a 2015 census (“Morocco Population”). The demographics of Morocco are a mixture of predominantly Berber, Arab, French and Spanish (Hachten 100). The official language of Morocco is Arabic, although French, Spanish, and several Berber dialects are spoken throughout the country. Despite the nations short-lived French takeover from 1912 to 1955, the independent country of Morocco is known for structure and stability compared to other Arab countries (“Free speech goes on trial in Morocco”).

The Moroccan monarchy, beginning with the Idrisid Dynasty, has a long history that predates the ninth century (Sater 3). Before the establishment of kings, sultans held ultimate power, as their role was to establish and maintain law. Arguably the sultan’s power was so absolute that no challenge against the leader was successful until France overtook Morocco in 1912. No matter how corrupt a sultan was, the masses and monarchy feared the chaos that follow rebellion more (Pennell 14).

Since the founding of Morocco, Islam has played a large role in the establishment of the monarchy infrastructure, with many religious references legitimizing monarchy positions of power with holy undertones that can still be seen in modern Morocco. For example, Sherifan is a societal status with a certain religious elitism that is attributed to families who are often then given local powers in bureaucracy (Sater 5). Another example would be Bay’a, which plays an important role towards the king’s title and power. Bay’a is a vow of loyalty toward a leader that is practiced in Islam. In the Moroccan monarchy, Bay’a essentially allows the king to have power over constitutional restraints and legislative, executive and judicial branches (Sater 6).

The origins of concentrated power towards the ruler and certain individuals of the monarchy still play out in more recent Moroccan history. For instance, King Mohamed V, under the pressure of the Istiqual (independence) party, signed an Independence Manifesto in 1944 that called for many things, including the creation of a democratic government independent from France. However, the document never actually mentioned developing a constitutional monarchy; and shortly after independence, the Istiqual party dispersed. As a result, Mohamed V was able to shuffle bureaucratic leaders toward his favor essentially guaranteeing that political opponents against the monarchy could never gain enough power (Sater 6). King Hassan 2 succeeded Mohamed V in 1961 and continued to focus economic power toward the king and monarchy by owning the most land in Morocco and as a result, became the nation’s most important businessman (Sater 10). Now many of Morocco’s enterprises, both state owned or private, flourished due to being exclusively offered state contracts, which insures that the economically elite have close ties and investments with the monarchy. Unlike his predecessors, the current king of Morocco, Mohamed VI, has established a reputation of appealing to the common man since he succeeded the thrown in 1999. Many of his political reforms and efforts have improved international relations with countries such as Spain, have direct funds towards social welfare, and has even pushed for a more democratic government (Pennell 380-384, 388). There is a lack of an English translated copy of the official Moroccan constitution in both printed and online sources. However, a translated draft of the constitution that was adopted in a referendum in 2011 states that “Morocco is a constitutional, democratic, parliamentary and social Monarchy” (Ruchti 4). Article 10 of the constitution states that oppositions to parliament have several rights including “the freedom of opinion, of expression, and of assembly…[and] air time at the level of official media” (Ruchri 7).

III. Free Speech

Although Morocco’s history with freedom of expression is relatively progressive compared to other Arab or African countries, Morocco has a past of strategic suppression for opposing opinions towards the king or monarchy. As a result of unreliable media outlets, spoken word at public gatherings has been the longest standing, and arguably the most reliable, tradition of mass reporting and expression. For example, a 1992 Journalism Quarterly article states that:

Within hours, news of the March 1965 Casablanca riots had reached the market places of every city and town, despite the government’s news blackout on all mass media. (Hachten 101).

Looking through a modern lens, despite Mohamed VI’s progressive reputation, when comparing freedom of speech from the 1990s to 2016, modern Morocco appears to have more restrictions.

For instance, after King Mohamed VI ceremoniously pardoned several prisoners on Throne Day, foreign news outlets popular in Morocco reported that among the pardoned was convicted child rapist Daniel Fino Galván (“Morocco: “Daniel Gate” Sparks Unprecedented National Outrage”). Soon after, it was reported that Galván had fled the country on a temporary visa. After an international, social media protest that criticized the king, Moroccans throughout the country organized civil protests that questioned the king’s judgment on Aug., 2, 2013. Despite having the right to assemble since 2011, police used heavy force to disperse the protests in several different locations. Although Moroccan news failed to report the incident, several international news outlets did (GlobalVoices).

IV. Free Press

After Morocco became independent from France in 1955, the Moroccan government seized control of the national newspapers, foreshadowing its efforts to suppress a free press throughout its history. Therefore the official Moroccan press has never criticized the government nor efficiently informed the public of events that might put the monarchy in a bad light (Hachten 104). The Moroccan government continued to restrict criticisms and opposing opinions to the monarchy as radio and television became more accessible throughout the country. For example, by the 1970s the monarchy believed that radio was one of the most popular forms of media for Moroccans and quickly took control of the medium as a way not to inform citizens but to officially broadcast the desires of the king (Hachten 101). Furthermore, although the Moroccan government was quick to overtake print media, the government generally discouraged Moroccan citizens to pursue any sort of training in journalism, a practice that the monarchy continues to this day.

For example, according to a 2015 report from Reporters Without Borders, Ali Anouzla, editor-in-chief of the Arabic edition of the news website Lakome2, has been arrested, tried, and jailed several times since September 2013. The original website, Lakome, had a link to a French article about a video posting from the terrorist group Al-Qaeda. Anouzla was charged with several counts of violating the 2003 anti-terrorist law, and spent five weeks in detention to prevent further encouragement or assistance in terrorism. Lakome was also blocked immediately after Anouzla’s first detention, and continues to be inaccessible within Morocco to this day (Reporters Without Borders). The anti-terrorism bill was the government’s immediate reaction to the May 2003 Casablanca bombings where 12 suicide bombers killed 45 people in an act of terrorism from Al-Qaeda. The passing of the bill resulted in Morocco dropping from a ranking of 89 to 131 in the Freedom Index because the bill allowed the government to bypass rights citizens previously possessed such as a right to an attorney. For example, Anouzla’s extended detention period is not an uncommon occurrence among suspects. A loophole in the anti-terrorism bill allows the court to detain suspects like Anouzla for 12 days without seeing a lawyer, a practice that often results in a confession. It is speculated that the high number of confessions are a result of torture (Sater 79-80). Anouzla continues to be summoned to court to this day to justify his motivations in his publications for his new website Lakome2.

Continuing on the topic of suppressing press freedoms, on October 2015, Professor Maâti Monjib and several others were charged with receiving support to promote opposition of the monarchy that could potentially inhibit citizen’s loyalty to the king. Monjib founded both a Center for Research and Information, which closed at the end of 2014, and co-founded a human rights and journalism organization called Freedom Now (“Free speech goes on trail in Morocco”). The organization has faced opposition from the government, as the police have interfered with several Freedom Now meetings by blocking public meeting spots. Monjib was charged with violating penal code 206 because the foreign organization Free Press Unlimited trained members of Freedom Now in journalism techniques earlier in the 2015 year (Human Rights Watch). According to a November 2015 report from the Human Rights Watch, Monjib was expected to face trial on the nineteenth of the same month. According to a January 2016 article from the Associated Press, Monjib was expected to face trial later that month. There are no other articles, both foreign and international, that mention Monjib’s official trial date.

V. Critical Comparison

Similar to Morocco, the United States has also dropped in ranking on the World Press Freedom Index. Morocco ranked 89 out of 180 in 2002 but dropped to a ranking of 130 in 2015. In 2002 the United States ranked 17 out of 180, but dropped significantly to a rank of 46 in 2014 (Reporters Without Borders). However, although both countries have dropped notably from their original rankings, the disparity between the freedom of speech and press issues of the two countries is apparent. For example, the United States had a large drop of 14 places from 2013 to 2014 due to the highly publicized case of Jeffrey Sterling that highlighted the lack of judicial protection for journalists to have confidential sources. In contrast, the power in the Moroccan government is concentrated towards the king with no checks or balances’. Therefore, despite the newest translated draft of the Moroccan constitution granting freedoms similar to the United States First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Moroccan rights of expression are less protected than the United States. As a result of an imbalance of government power, Moroccan citizens are still fighting for basic freedoms of speech like the right to assemble, free press, and the right to criticize the government. Morocco isn’t at a point yet where their judicial system could decide cases similar to prominent United States cases. For example, New York Times v. United States was a 1971 Supreme Court case over whether the New York Times violated the Espionage Act when the newspaper company published a classified study of United States activities in Vietnam. The Supreme Court voted six to three in favor the New York Times in order to prevent a restriction to the press that could interfere with the First Amendment rights. A case like New York Times v. United States has not yet occurred in Morocco since the government owns all the mass media outlets, and will quickly restrict foreign or independent outlets.

Furthermore Moroccan citizens barely have the right to assemble, let alone the right to hold controversial protests like the 1989 Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson or Snyder v. Phelps in 2011. Texas v. Johnson had a five to four vote in favor of Johnson that ruled that his actions of burning an American flag during a protest counted as symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment and made the Texas flag desecration law unconstitutional. Snyder v. Phelps had an eight to one decision in favor of Phelps that ruled that the Westboro Baptist Church’s protest of a soldier’s funeral was protected under the First Amendment because the church’s message involved matters of public concern without regard to the perception of the message.

U.S. Supreme Court cases like Tinker v. Des Moines and Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier establish the free speech rights for students in public schools. In Tinker v. Des Moines, a case involving students being suspended for protesting the Vietnam war by wearing black armbands to school, the majority opinion ruled on the side of Tinker, stating that students didn’t lose their right to freedom of speech at the school house gates. The case of Hazelwood v. Kuhlmier was about the issue of whether the school principal had the right to remove two articles from a student-produced newspaper based on the controversial content. A five to three vote ruled in favor of the principal stating that the school had the right to prevent controversial publications that were produced using school resources. However, in Morocco, since the right to assemble isn’t secure for any Moroccan citizen, the argument for free speech rights for minors has yet to be brought up.

In the 1931 United States Supreme Court case Near v. Minnesota, the Minnesota courts ruled that Near’s publication was malicious and defamatory, and forbade Near from publishing further. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the publisher in order to prevent government censorship through prior restraint. In Morocco, although Anouzla’s charge was not based on defamation, but charged with inciting terrorism by linking an article about a terrorist group’s video, the anti-terrorism bill would be held unconstitutional in the United States because it establishes prior restraint. The government was able to block Anouzla’s entire website to prevent any more publishing that they deemed inappropriate. The Moroccan government is using prior restraint in order to control what is being reported on unofficial news outlets. In 2016, Anouzla continues to face trials that examine his motive for why he created a new website. The government suspicions are based off his previous charges in 2013.

In the 1946 case Pennekamp v. Florida, the Miami Herald newspaper published criticisms of the local judges and was held in contempt of court for attempting to create a public distrust of the Florida judicial system. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the publication because criticism of the government is one of the many rights of a free and powerful press, despite the argument that the criticism could lead to “discrediting the Court in the eyes of the public” (US 343). Unfortunately for Professor Monjib, he has no protection from prosecutions against him based on inciting causes for Moroccan citizens to lose their faith in the monarchy.

VI. Conclusion

Despite Morocco’s claims of having a democratic government that supports rights similar to that of the U.S. Constitution, the imbalance of government power prevents those rights from being guaranteed to its citizens. Although the Moroccan constitution supports the right to assemble, protests against the king are met with violent police brutality. Journalist Anouzla faced extended detention, had his website quickly shut down and remains to be carefully monitored to this day for publically linking his site to a controversial topic involving terrorism. Professor Monjib, a supporter of human rights and journalism in Morocco, continues to await trail for accepting foreign aid to train others in journalism. Therefore, until a system is established that enforces Moroccan civil rights despite the opposition of the king or monarchy, the struggle for free speech and press will continue.

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This work was last updated April 26, 2016.

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