Cablegate: Moroccan Journalists Detained for Publishing Confidential

DE RUEHRB #1180/01 2001733
R 191733Z JUL 07





E.0.12958: N/A
SUBJECT: Moroccan journalists detained for publishing confidential
government documents

1. (U) This message is sensitive but unclassified; please protect


1. (SBU) A newspaper publisher and journalist were arrested on July
17 for publishing classified military documents; they remained in
custody as of COB July 19. The Moroccan Press Union offered
qualified support for the journalists, focusing mostly on the
legality of the arrest procedures. The head of publishers'
federation was more categorical in writing that the journalists had
likely done nothing illegal, and should not have been detained. In
private conversations, the journalists' colleagues have been largely
unsupportive, questioning the ethics of publishing documents that
had the potential to undermine public security during this sensitive
period of high alert. Most contacts assessed that the public
prosecutor was primarily concerned with identifying the source of
the leak. End summary.

2. (U) Abderrahim Ariri, director of independent weekly Al Watan,
and one of his reporters, Mustafa Hormatallah, were arrested on July
17 for publishing confidential government documents. A large number
of police officers searched Ariri's residence and Al Watan's offices
on the same day, seizing documents and computers. The arrests came
in response to a series of articles Al Watan ran on July 14
entitled, "The secret reports behind the state of alert in Morocco,"
which contained information from confidential military documents
regarding the reasons behind the GOM's July 6 decision to raise its
state-of-alert level to the maximum. One of the stories reproduced
a memo from the "Fifth Bureau" (a military counterterrorism unit)
advising security services to be on guard following the publication
of an online video calling for jihad against Morocco and other
Maghreb states. Casablanca's public prosecutor, Moulay Abdallah
Alaoui Belghiti, ordered the two men be investigated for revealing
national secrets. Ariri and Hormatallah remain in detention in an
unknown location. Belghiti has stated that a number of top-secret
security documents were seized from Ariri, and denounced the
publication of the documents as "an act against the law and
reprehensible." Belghiti also launched an investigation to
determine the source of the leaked documents.

3. (SBU) Public reaction to the arrests has been limited.
Pro-palace daily Le Matin publicly supported the arrest in its daily
editorial today (see block quotes below). The Moroccan National
Press Union (SNPM) issued a communique denouncing the arrest as
"exaggerated" and "oppressive," and averring that in the absence of
a law regulating access to information, journalists were pushed to
rely on their own independent initiative to gain access to
information. When asked about the communique, SNPM Secretary
General Younes Mjahid stated that the union's concerns were
primarily focused on the fact that the men had been detained without
being charged, and that both their detention and the investigation
had been ordered by a public prosecutor rather than a judge.

4. (U) Abdelmouneim Dilami, President of the Moroccan Federation of
Publishers and director of the largest media group in Morocco,
expressed stronger public support for the journalists arrested. In
an editorial in independent daily L'Economiste, Dilami called the
arrest "dangerous," stressing that only a judge had the authority to
order the journalists arrested, and questioning whether the
journalists had in fact broken any laws in publishing the documents.
He contended that the leaks were the fault of the responsible
security service, and the journalists should not be held responsible
(see block quote below).
5. (U) International watchdog organizations Reporters Without
Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued
measured condemnations of the arrest. RSF released a statement
stating: "It is wrong to arrest these two journalists and keep them
in custody, especially as it would have sufficed to summon them for
questioning. . . .the internal memo published in the weekly seems
not to have contained any confidential information. . . [T]he
journalists should not be turned into scapegoats." Similarly, CPJ
stated that it is "deeply troubled" by the incident.
6. (SBU) In private communications with the Public Affairs Section
(PAS), a wide range of media contacts criticized Al Watan for

RABAT 00001180 002 OF 003

publishing the documents, and evinced very little sympathy for their
colleagues. Many argued that Al Watan should not have published
confidential government defense documents during a particularly

sensitive period for Morocco's national security, and questioned the
ethical standards of the journalists implicated. Many said this was
a case of national security, not press freedom. Our contacts in the
press opined that the public prosecutor was primarily concerned with
identifying the leak; it was not clear whether he intended to pursue
a criminal case against the journalists as well.


7. (SBU) As with most recent cases touching on freedom of the press
in Morocco, this incident is not amenable to clear-cut analysis.
Moroccans are especially sensitive to the tense security environment
they currently face, in which checkpoints at the entrances to major
cities have become the norm. Thus, many are questioning the ethics
(if not the legality) of publishing a photocopy of a secret document
relating to security. That said, at the very least the procedures
followed to detain the journalists were of questionable legality.
Moreover, it is disconcerting they have been kept incommunicado for
more than two days. Post will continue to follow these developments
and assess whether we need to formally raise this case with the GOM.
End comment.

7. (U) Block quotes:

A. "Abuse of Power," front page editorial by Abdelmouneim Dilami,
President of the Moroccan Federation of Publishers and Director of
independent daily "L'Economiste":

The seizure of the weekly Al Watan and the arrest of its director,
Ariri, are dangerous and worrisome for more than one reason. First
of all, on the level of procedure, nothing justifies the director of
a newspaper being arrested in such a manner as long as the rebuke is
linked to the exercise of his profession. This tendency to
criminalize the press is worrisome. Do we need to reiterate that
the role of the press is to inform public opinion, and that
information is a right of a sovereign people? We are not giving
ourselves over to grandiloquence, but simply reiterating elementary
principles. This newspaper published some internal documents of the
security services, some trivial documents. Even if there is fault,
which in our eyes is not the case, it is up to the judge to decide
and as long as the judge has not said so, there is no mistake and
thus no justification for proceeding to arrest the director of the
publication. Indeed, if these documents coming from the security
services ended up in the hands of some journalists, that is not the
latter's' fault; one should take it out on the services, because
these leaks indicated negligence. The journalist, as for him, did
nothing but his job, which is to publish. He is not responsible for
the discipline of functionaries. The only documents that the law
forbids from publishing are those [dealing with] cases that are
being prosecuted by the judiciary. One can only be surprised at the
public authorities that dramatized the affair, as if there were
mysterious actors seeking to sabotage the process of liberalization
taking place. In case these actors ignored it, they must understand
that Morocco will never be registered among the democratic countries
if it does not have a free press. The professional press
organizations contribute to managing this delicate transition phase.
But it is necessary at the same time that the state for its part
not allow certain of its agents, at each positive stage, to come and
deliberately destroy it.

B. "Press is pulling in opposite directions," inside page editorial
in pro-palace, French-language daily Le Matin:

The Casablanca Appeals Court public prosecutor has demanded that the
police open a preliminary investigation into the publication by the
weekly, Al Watan, of a dossier entitled "The secret reports behind
the state-of-alert in Morocco". . . Once more the irresponsible
press has indulged in one of its favorite exercises: to defy the
law, to trample on the sacred principles of ethics and, in the case
that occupies us today, to violate the regulation of confidentiality
in appropriating and publishing some secret documents belonging to
the administration of the state. The offense is dangerous. . .

RABAT 00001180 003 OF 003

[involving] false journalists who, yielding to sensationalism and
believing they had a scoop, simply breached the law. If the
Constitution and democracy in Morocco guarantee total freedom to
citizens, and notable to the press, as is rarely done in certain
countries, this same freedom remains attached to a condition that is
a sine qua non: responsibility. . . . Not only did [the
journalists] believe that they could publish the contents [of the
documents] with impunity, but they deliberately reproduced the
reports [in the form in which] they were stolen and entrusted to
them. . . .[Theft] of confidential documents belonging to the
administration, which what's more were rendered public, risking
putting in danger the security of the citizenry and violating the
sacred character of the procedures of the state, is punishable by
serious penalties. . . . In the United States, stealing a secret
defense of the state or its institutions exposes [someone]
immediately - whatever the social rank of the personal implicated -
to judicial procedures and to prison sentences.


© Scoop Media

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