Morocco denies hindering coverage of Rif unrest

Rabat (AFP) – Morocco on Monday rejected accusations by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that it obstructed coverage of months of unrest and protests that have shaken the northern Rif region.

In July, RSF issued a scathing statement accusing the authorities in the North African country of preventing journalists from covering events in the Rif, particularly in the main city of Al-Hoceima.

“The situation of Moroccan and foreign journalists covering the events in northern Morocco keeps on getting worse,” said Yasmine Kacha, the head of RSF’s North Africa bureau, at the time.

“By trying to prevent coverage of the Rif protests, the Moroccan authorities are gradually turning this region into a no-go zone for independent media.”

On Monday, the culture and communications ministry rejected the accusations as biased, unfounded and “lacking in credibility and proof”.

It said 89 foreign media correspondents accredited in Morocco hold “all the permits necessary to carry out their work under normal conditions across the country”.

The authorities have not “influenced the coverage” of any foreign or local journalist, the ministry said.

However, it acknowledged the arrest and sentencing in July of local journalist Hamid El Mahdaoui at the start of a banned demonstration in Al-Hoceima on charges of incitement.

El Mahdaoui, who heads the Badil online news site, was found guilty of helping to organise “a non-authorised march” and having “invited” others to take part, the website said.

He was sentenced to three months in jail and fined 20,000 dirhams ($2,120, 1,800 euros), Badil said.

During the banned July 20 demonstration, police in Al-Hoceima fired tear gas to disperse protesters and dozens of people including El Mahdaoui were arrested.

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At the same time internet connection slowed and was at times fully interrupted across Al-Hoceima, which “complicated the work of journalists on the ground”, RSF said.

The media watchdog has said a total of seven citizen-journalists have been arrested in the Rif in recent months.

The protests erupted last October after a fishmonger was crushed to death in a rubbish truck as he tried to retrieve swordfish confiscated for being caught out of season.

Demands for justice later snowballed into a wider social movement named Al-Hirak al-Shaabi, calling for jobs, development and an end to graft.

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