The arrest of anti-monarchy opposition journalist Ali Anouzla under the Moroccan Anti-Terrorism Law signals renewed suppression of freedoms of expression and the press.
Moroccan authorities arrested Ali Anouzla, a journalist and the founding director of the Arabic edition of the news website Lakome, on September 17. Anouzla has been one of King Mohammed VI’s most persistent and prominent critics. The public prosecutor’s official charges against the troublemaking journalist fall under the Anti-Terrorism Law, and carry a severe potential sentence of 5 to 30 years behind bars. The prosecutor in Rabat accuses Anouzla of providing “material aid” to terrorists, “praising terrorist acts,” and “inciting the carrying out of terrorist acts.”
Although Anouzla was officially arrested in connection with the publication of the latest video by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), however there are a couple of points that weaken this argument. Anzoula merely republished a link to El Pais, which had previously published a link to the video. Also, Aboubakr Jamai, director of Lakome’s French edition, had already published the direct link to AQIM’s video on the site. Ali Anouzla also indicated to readers that the video’s content was propaganda. Furthermore, when Jamai declared that he was ready to turn himself in to the police, he was ignored by the public prosecutor. The link to the video stayed up for four days on Lakome without the authorities requesting that it be taken down, which belies the argument that the video constituted an imminent danger to the public, since they had the technical ability to shut down the website but did not. Finally, the video was circulated on Facebook by many Moroccan users, including prominent local figures and other online newspapers, without facing any repercussions.
So why was Anouzla singled out by the government? His colleagues at Lakome argue that his arrest under the Anti-Terrorism Law was out of “pure revenge” by the palace against one of its most vocal critics. Most recently, Anouzla broke the story on the Spanish pedophile Daniel Galvan, who had served two years out of a 30-year sentence before being mistakenly released by a royal pardon in late July. This case almost overnight precipitated the worst crisis in Mohammed VI’s reign since he came to power in 1999, with thousands of furious protesters denouncing the royal decision. In an unprecedented move, the palace was forced to issue three statements in a row defending its actions and backpedaling away from the amnesty.
Ali Anouzla has become a target of the intelligence agencies, which prior to this latest case had already sent him a number of thinly-veiled threats, including spreading a rumor about his mental wellbeing (that he had survived a suicide attempt). The warnings to Anouzla generally came after he published articles critical of the king. The journalist is known in Morocco for his unusual courage in pursuing political stories related to the king and that Anouzla sees as having harmful implications for Moroccans.
In several of his articles, Anouzla has blasted what he calls “the monarchy’s constitutional irresponsibility,” claiming there is an incongruity between the sweeping executive powers granted to the king under the constitution and the lack of any institutional accountability. Anouzla has been one of the very few Moroccan journalists who have dared openly criticize the king on this issue. In an article published on June 4, Anouzla wrote:
Since 10 May, King Mohammed VI has been on a private, unannounced visit, no one knows to where or when it will end. Before that, the king had been on another private visit, which some media outlets said was in the UAE… and before that, the king had traveled, as always on a private visit, lasting 19 days and starting on 4 January, reportedly in France. All in all, in five months the king has spent 57 days… in private, unannounced visits, which we do not know when they start, when they will end, or what their destination is. In reality, there is no head of state in the world, except perhaps in dictatorships on their way to extinction, which enjoys such a large number of open vacation days… of course, no one asks whether these ‘open’ vacations were paid… because the king according to the current constitution remains above accountability or questioning!
In another article, published earlier on the same website, Anouzla attacked the palace’s large budget, pointing out that it was four and a half times the size of the Ministry of Culture’s budget, and claiming that the bulk of these appropriations were without a constitutional basis.
In March 2013, he wrote an article describing King Mohammed VI’s regime as “soft despotism” and warning that the regime was going to become tougher after having lost two years to the Arab Spring.
The arrest of Ali Anouzla may signal the end of any hope of change in Morocco as the regime seems bent on getting revenge on its toughest opponents—using the terrorism law as an excuse to keep public opinion on its side. Political parties are likewise exposed again to strong pressure from the palace—after a brief opening in the political climate in 2011. Therefore, six parties, among them the Socialist Union of Popular Forces, hastened to condemn Anouzla even before his trial started. And of the ruling parties only the Justice and Development Party did not explicitly denounce Anouzla.
As Anouzla awaits his trial—scheduled for October 22, but delays are expected in an attempt to break the journalist—it’s important to note that Anouzla’s is not an isolated case. The king’s critics are usually punished in one way or another. Among the most common and effective punishments are the defamation of the opposition by exposing details of their private lives in print or online newspapers close to the intelligence services. For instance, Nadia Yassine, a prominent opponent of the regime, was forced to into a long period of silence after intelligence services published pictures of her with a fellow member from Adl wal-Ihsane with damning insinuations. Likewise, other activists have been dragged to court on trumped-up charges of drug trafficking or even robbery. Such methods are old—and while they abated during the Arab Spring in Morocco, they appear to be back in full force.
Maâti Monjib is a Moroccan political analyst and historian. He is the editor of Islamists versus Secularists in Morocco (2009) and a regular contributor to Sada.
* This article was translated from Arabic.
* Correction: An earlier version of this article mistakenly reported that the newspaper Sada Bladi had posted a link to the video. Sada Bladi had only posted a picture of the link hosted by El Pais.