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Cablegate: Leading Independent Weekly Cloed for Tax

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHRB #0094/01 0361316
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 051316Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY RABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE1169
INFO RUCNMGH/MAGHREB COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS RABAT 000094

SIPDIS
SENSITIE

STATE FOR NEA/MAG, DRL/NESCA AND NEA/PPD
LODON FOR MOC

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PRELKPAO MO
SUBJECT: LEADING INDEPENDENT WEEKLY CLOED FOR TAX

EVASION

REF: 09 RABAT 0608

------
Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Summary: On Jauary 27, 2010, a Moroccan
commercial court seize and sealed the offices of
independent weekly "L Journal" for non-payment of
taxes. While repreentatives ofthe court claim
that action had no olitical overtones, we see this
incident as only he latest, and most chilling, in a
series of effrts on the part of the Government of
Morocco (GO) to rein in the independent media in
Morocco. nd summary.

-----------------------------------
Le Journal: A History of Legal Woes
----------------------------------

2. (SBU) Boubker Jamai co-director of "Le
Journal," told IO Ranz on Jauary 28 that four
bailiffs from the Moroccan comercial courts had
seized the offices of "Le Joural" the day before
and sealed its doors, posting guard out front to
prevent anyone from entering This action was taken
on the order of a judge because of nearly 4.5
million dirham (over USD 560,000) in debts owed to
the Moroccan social security and the tax
administrations. Jamai acknowledged the debts but
insisted that the seizure was illegal, as the
current newspaper owner is not the one that owes the
back taxes; the debts date back to 1997-2002, when
the newspaper was owned by a different company. He
also blamed the Moroccan Government for Le Journal's
persistent precarious economic situation, claiming
that -- following an earlier run-in with the
authorities in 2001, when the newspaper was banned
for 40 days -- the Government pressured advertisers
not to do business with "Le Journal." As a result,
Jamai stated, "Le Journal" lost 80 percent of its
revenue, and never completely recovered its
financial footing.

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3. (SBU) Jamai also mentioned that bank accounts of
"Le Journal" had been seized a few weeks earlier in
connection with an outstanding 3 million dirham
(about USD 375,000) libel judgment dating back to
2006. That case involved Claude Moniquet, a Belgian
researcher, who sued "Le Journal" after the
newspaper reported that a research paper he wrote
supportive of Morocco's stance on Western Sahara had
been paid for by the royal palace. In 2007, Jamai
severed his editorial ties with "Le Journal," sold
his shares in the holding company and left for the
U.S., where he spent over two years in self-imposed
"exile" in an effort to shield "Le Journal" from
having to pay the fine. He returned to the
editorial masthead of "Le Journal" in the fall of
2009 when it became clear that none of these
measures were succeeding in protecting "Le Journal"
from further legal action.

--------------------
Muted Local Reaction
--------------------

4. (U) Beyond factual reporting of the closure,
Moroccan press reaction has been very limited. Few
newspapers have commented on the incident at all; of
those that have, commentators have reflexively and
predictably aligned themselves into two camps.
Those predisposed to the government perspective
(pro-Palace daily "Le Matin" and "Aujourd'hui le
Maroc," which tends to align itself with the
security establishment) have focused on the taxes
owed, denying that the closure was anything more
than a simple legal action by the commercial courts.
They also accuse "Le Journal" leadership of
arrogantly believing they are above the law. A few
independent newspapers known for their strong
promotion of freedom of expression (such as "Al-
Jarida Al-Aoula," which has itself faced its share
of legal actions) have characterized this action as
an attack on the press, and part of a pattern of
Moroccan government actions over the past year to
restrict press freedom. For their parts, neither
the Moroccan Federation of Newspaper Publishers

(FMEJ) nor the Moroccan National Press Union (SNPM)
has commented on the case.

5. (U) In an interview with "Aujourd'hui le Maroc,"
an attorney for the social security administration
stated, "What is happening to 'Le Journal' is the
culmination of a regular judicial process dating
from 2002 ... if the amounts owed by the weekly are
paid to the different creditors, all legal
procedures will automatically be dropped."

-----------------------------
Strong International Reaction
-----------------------------

6. (U) By contrast, international observers have
reacted strongly, condemning the closure. A
representative of the Committee to Protect
Journalists stated in reaction to the closure, "We
condemn the strategy of using the courts to silence
critical publications." British daily "The
Guardian" published a critical op-ed on the closure,
and several bloggers that follow press freedom
issues in Morocco have also lambasted the action.
Summarizing the mood, one blogger on Global Voices
wrote, "The end of 'Le Journal' signals a dangerous
setback for the state of freedoms in Morocco. It
pulls a thorn out of the regime's side but it also
sends a strong message to the remaining independent
media still struggling to survive in an increasingly
repressive environment."

-------
Comment
-------

7. (SBU) It is impossible to see this as a simple
commercial court matter. For more than a decade,
"Le Journal" has been in the vanguard of the
Moroccan independent press, serving as a potent
symbol of the new face of Morocco promoted
tirelessly by King Mohammed VI. Since Jamai resumed
writing the weekly editorials in "Le Journal" in
late 2009, we have been waiting for the other shoe
to drop; the increasingly strident, direct and
daring tone of his commentaries appeared designed
(and destined) to provoke an overreaction by the
Moroccan Government (see the block quote below, for
example). There seems little doubt that this
closure is intended to have a chilling effect on
freedom of expression in Morocco.

8. (SBU) That said, Jamai is not going quietly into
that good night; he held a press conference on
February 3 (which has garnered minimal local press
coverage) in which he declared (again) that he was
abandoning journalism in Morocco and exiling himself
abroad in protest against the newspaper's closure (a
theatrical flourish, as in truth he has not lived in
Morocco for almost three years; since leaving the
U.S. in the fall of 2009, he has resided in Spain
where his wife is from, and come only infrequently
to Morocco). Perhaps more importantly, he has an
extraordinary network of contacts in the West -- he
conducted fellowships at Harvard and Yale, taught at
UC San Diego, and was the subject of a glowing
profile in The New Yorker Magazine in 2006 entitled
"The Crusader -- which he is clearly employing to
great effect to generate international pressure on
the GOM. End Comment.

-----------
Block Quote
-----------

9. (U) "Political Hooliganism" editorial by
director Boubker Jamai in independent French-
language weekly Le Journal on 12/12/2009:

"Two series of recent events are at the origin of
[Morocco's] tension with the EU: the hysterical
repression that hit the press a few weeks ago, and
Morocco's management of the Aminatou Haidar case.
What is so dispiriting in analyzing these two
examples of repression is their gratuitousness. In
other words, what would have happened if the regime
had not cracked down on the press, and if it had not
stripped Aminatou Haidar of her nationality before

expelling her? Aside from avoiding the humiliation
of the injunctions of the EU to respect press
freedom and human rights, nothing. What increase in
respect for the monarchy did it gain in using its
"justice under orders" to send journalists to
prison, ban newspapers and ruin media companies?
What prestige did it gain by treating Aminatou
Haidar as we have done? How has this treatment
convinced the rest of the world of the Moroccan-ness
of the Sahara? Because in case some people have
forgotten, this is what we are supposed to be doing.

"So why? Because it's in the nature of this regime.
A nature that is unfortunately nourished by our
collective weakness in creating for ourselves a
future for the country that respects the dignity of
its citizens. The Moroccan regime, like certain
autocratic regimes, has become a repression junkie.
Junkies who shoot up with authoritarianism and who
must constantly increase their dose. In this
metaphor, we, collectively, are its pushers -- by
keeping quiet, by mumbling so-called patriotic
arguments with a confusing stupidity, as [then
Justice Minister] Abdelouahed Radi did this week in
Spain. By not daring to criticize actions and
decisions that are manifestly inept. So, let's cut
off the supply."

Kaplan

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