Two years for criticizing the King



 
Moroccan blogger Mohamed Erraji has been sentenced to two years in prison for posting an article in which he criticized the policies of the King.
 
By ALEXANDRA SANDELS
 
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Mohamed Erraji. R.R.

BEIRUT, September 10, 2008 (MENASSAT)- Twenty-nine year old Erraji was arrested last Friday shortly after publishing an article on the popular e-journal Hespress, in which he claimed that the King's charitable habits were "encouraging a culture of dependency" and the Moroccan people to be "lazy."

(Click here for the English translation of Erraji's orginal post on Global Voices Online.)

After hours of interrogation, Erraji was charged with "lacking the respect due to the King" and sentenced to a two-year prison sentence and a fine of 5,000 Dirham ($630) in a speedy trial on Monday. He was allegedly forced to give the security services the password to his personal email.

According to one of Erraji's relatives who was present at the trial in Agadir, Erraji was denied access to a defense lawyer and was convicted after a ten-minute trial.

"The judge passed the sentence very quickly. We couldn't hear what was being said. He had no opportunity to explain himself," the relative, who asked to remain anonymous, told the BBC.

Erraji is the moderator of the blog The World of Mohamed Errajali (massae.maktoobblog.com) where he has been writing under his real name about political and social issues in Morocco since March 2007. Considered one of the most prominent bloggers in Morocco, he was asked to become a contributor to Hespress in June 2007, where he later launched his own column, "Without compliment."

Human rights groups slammed the verdict.

The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) called it a "crystal clear example of the absence of justice and freedom of expression in Morocco," while Reporters Without Borders referred to the trial as "worthy of the most totalitarian states."

Internet activists have set up a campaign website, www.helperraji.com, as well as a Facebook group to rally support for Erraji. Visitors to the website are being asked to sign a petition for his release.

The France-based Moroccan blogger Larbi told Menassat in an email conversation that while Errjai's conviction came as a surprise to him, every Moroccan knows that criticizing the King is a big don't in Morocco.

"I was surprised by this speedy conviction, especially the fact that Erraji did not have the right to a lawyer. It is dangerous to write about the leader of the country. That was the case for Fouad Mourtada a couple of months ago. Today it's the case for Mohamed Erraji."

Earlier this year, Morocco made the international headlines when it imprisoned Fouad Mortada for creating a spoof Facebook profile for the King's brother.

Mortada, initially sentenced to three years in prison for his Facebook activities, was given a royal pardon following massive protests from Internet users across the world.

Erraji now finds himself in a similar situation to that of Mourtada. His best hope for freedom is most likely to receive a pardon from the very man he dared criticize.

"Freedom of expression and Internet freedom is always a battle between those who want more rights and space and those who want to maintain the status quo," El Hilali told MENASSAT.

"History teaches us that the latter always end up getting the short end of the stick, even if the former often have to pay a heavy price."