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Cablegate: Magazines Seized and Editors Convoked for Disrespecting The

VZCZCXRO3565
RR RUEHDE
DE RUEHRB #1265/01 2191439
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 071439Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7111
INFO RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 4488
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 9350
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 2129
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 0497
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS 0673
RUEHCL/AMCONSUL CASABLANCA 3303
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3352
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 4708
RUEHNK/AMEMBASSY NOUAKCHOTT 3530
RUEHDE/AMCONSUL DUBAI 0103

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 RABAT 001265

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/PPD PAGNEW, NEA/MAG, NEA/PI, DRL, NEA/PA
LONDON FOR MOC
DUBAI FOR PELLETIER

E.0.12958: N/A
TAGS: KPAO PREL KDEM EAID PHUM KMPI MO
SUBJECT: MAGAZINES SEIZED AND EDITORS CONVOKED FOR DISRESPECTING THE
KING AND ISLAM

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

2. (U) Summary: Moroccan authorities seized, on orders of PM Jettou,
the most recent editions of TelQuel and Nichane, weekly current
affairs magazines on August 4 for violating laws that forbid
criticism of the monarchy and cause offense to public morality and
Islam. The seized issues published an editorial critical of the
King's Throne ay speech in which he stated that the upcoming
prliamentary elections would strengthen Moroccan deocracy, and an
article on sex in Islamic culture. Ahmed Benchemsi a former IV, who
directs both mgazines and a college, has been questioned several
times by police and prosecutors, but is not yet ormally charged.
Their printer was also interrogted. Observers speculate that the
seizure of the Nichane and TelQuel issues may reflect the
governent's intent to erode press freedom prior to the ucoming
parliamentary elections. We are deeply cncerned given the key
role of the press role inthe democracy and reform process in
Morocco. EndSummary.

---------------------------------------
TELQUEL/NICHANE PUSH THE ENVELOPE, AGAIN
---------------------------------------

3. On Augut 4, 2007, Moroccan authorities seized the proofs f
French-language current affairs magazine TelQue (circulation
25,000) before it went to print an pulled copies of Nichane
(circulation 10,000), ts Arabic-language sister publication, from
newstands. The GOM accuses the publications of violatng laws that
forbid criticism of the monarchy andIslam by printing articles
disrespectful of the King and offensive to public morality. Ahmed
Benchemsi, who directs both magazines and is a longtime critic of
the King, was questioned by police for four hours in Casablanca on
August 4 and remained in police custody until the early morning
hours of August 5. He has since been called back twice although
formal charges are not yet filed. He has been instructed to remain
available for further questioning. Authorities lso summoned
Redouane Ramdani, Editor-in-Chief o Nichane for questioning.
TelQuel and Nichane boh have a history of attracting government
ire. For example, in January 2007, Nichane was shut down for two
months after it published jokes the government and courts deemed
offensive to Islam, prompting the eventual resignation of its then
editor Driss Ksikes, who received a suspended sentence of three
years.

-------------------------------
ELECTIONS DON'T EQUAL DEMOCRACY
-------------------------------

4. The confiscated issues of Nichane and TelQuel included several
articles critical of the King, including an editorial on the King's
Throne Day speech by Ahmed Benchemsi entitled "What are you saying
Master?" In the editorial, Benchemsi claimed that the September 7
parliamentary elections are "meaningless in a country where the King
wields near absolute power." His statement directly contradicts the
King's assessment in his Throne Day speech that the election would
strengthen Moroccan democracy. Benchemsi also called into question
the King's assertion that suffrage is "not to decide on the form of
government because there is already a consensus that matter." In
addition, he opined that the King should not have jurisdiction over
all three branches of power.

-----------------------------
A CHANGE IN TONE AND LANGUAGE
-----------------------------
5. Nichane also published an article entitled "Vote, God Bless You!"
signed by its Editor-in-Chief Redouane Ramdani. The article asserts
that the King's discourse regarding the 2007 parliamentary elections
has changed over time and now seeks to maintain the status quo.
According to the article, in October 2006, the King called upon all
parties "to respect the voters, to be clear and transparent in their
speeches, and to select the best candidates to represent their
constituencies." However, in the Throne Day speech, the article
states, the King expressed satisfaction with the political parties
and no longer urged them to protect the interest of the people.
Instead, Ramdani quotes the King as saying "he [the King] will
confront those who doubt the usefulness of elections and attempt to

RABAT 00001265 002 OF 003


undermine their credibility." This is now put into action.

-------------------------------
WHERE ARE WE AFTER EIGHT YEARS?
-------------------------------

6. The seized edition of Nichane also included an article by
Benchemsi entitled "Where are you taking us, Brother? with the
subtitle: "I speak and you obey." The article offers a critical
assessment of the reign of Mohammed VI, stating "Moroccans had great
expectations after Mohammed VI took power, but are disappointed
eight years later." Benchemsi claims that the only important
achievement of the King was the Moudawana law governing the rights
of women.

-----------------------------
WHAT'S SEX GOT TO DO WITH IT?
-----------------------------

7. Nichane also published an article on sex in the Arab world
entitled "Sex in Islamic Culture," which included photographs of
orientalist paintings of nude women. The article discuss the taboo
subjects of the sex lives of married couples, homosexuality, and the
Prophet's statements about sexual relations saying, "he [the
Prophet] talked openly about the most intimate sexual relationships
between men an women." Although the subject matter of the article is
controversial in this conservative Muslim country, knowledgeable
observers point out that Nichane and TelQuel have written on this
topic in the past without government intervention. Most
commentators, we have spoken to, believe this article alone would
not have prompted the authorities to seize the edition, leading some
to assert that criticism of the King is the only steadfast taboo. In
response to the move against the printer, the press union (SNPM) has
called for a work stoppage today.

-----------------------
ARE SEIZURES JUSTIFIED?
-----------------------

8. In a communique issued on August 4, Prime Minister Driss Jettou
stated that the magazines were seized because they published
articles that violate laws that make it illegal to publish articles
that are disrespectful of the monarchy, discredit Islam or are
offensive to public morality. In response to the confiscation of
the publications, Youness M'Jahed, President of the Moroccan Union
of Journalists (SNPM), denounced the seizures as censorship and
asserted that the articles do not harm the monarchy or offend Islam.
In addition, independent Arabic-language daily Al Massae published
a front-page editorial on August 6 that denounced the seizure as
undemocratic and accused the authorities as unduly restricting press
freedom.

--------------------------
PRESS FREEDOM UNDER THREAT
--------------------------

9. (SBU) Observers speculate that the seizure of the Nichane and
TelQuel issues when considered in light of government-led legal
action in recent months against publications and journalists may
reflect a GOM strategy to erode press freedom prior to the September
parliamentary elections. The seizure follows a long list of GOM
acts of censorship and restrictions on press freedoms that have
already been reported. For example, as of August 6, the weekly
French-language daily Le Journal Hebdo suspended publishing until it
receives authorization from authorities in Rabat. On July 17,
Abderrahmim Ariri, the director of Al Watan, was arrested for
publishing a military document on Morocco's terrorist alert level
and is currently awaiting trial. The Al Watan case drew strong
international condemnation from watchdog organizations like
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Committee to Protect
Journalists (CPJ). In addition, CPJ issued a report in May that
listed Morocco as one of ten worst backsliders on media freedom.

-------
COMMENT
-------


RABAT 00001265 003 OF 003


10. (SBU) Benchemsi is a well-known and respected journalist, who
has a reputation for pushing the boundaries of press freedom against
Morocco's relatively open press. The current crackdown on press
freedom in the lead-up to the September parliamentary elections is
matter of concern. Despite widespread local and international
condemnation, the government of Morocco continues to take steps that
hinder the exercise of press freedom. We are deeply concerned about
this development and are considering how to engage the GOM,
particularly in light of R and other senior visits and pending MCC
signing.

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