Case History: Ali Anouzla
Ali Anouzla faces charges from 2013 in relation to the news website Lakome. The case continues to be characterised by delays as the hearing planned for 14 December has been further adjourned to 22 February 2018. The human rights defender faces charges of "material support for terrorism", "sympathising with terrorism" and "incitement to commit acts of terrorism" in relation to a post on the Lakome website in September 2013. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
Ali Anouzla is a human rights defender, independent journalist and political analyst. He reports on human rights violations in Morocco and Western Sahara. He is the director of Lakome, a Rabat-based, independent online newspaper focusing on civil liberties, human rights, and the promotion of the rights of access to information and freedom of expression. He is also the co-founder, along with fellow human rights defender Mr Maâti Monjib, of Freedom Now - Comité de protection de la liberté de la presse et d'expression au Maroc (Freedom Now – Committee for the protection of freedom of the press and free expression in Morocco), a human rights organization which was denied registration by the authorities in May 2014.
On 24 May 2016, the Court of First Instance of Rabat dropped the charges brought against prominent journalist Mr Ali Anouzla accused of “undermining national territorial integrity” in connection with comments made on the dispute regarding Western Sahara in an interview.
Ali Anouzla is a human rights defender, independent journalist and political analyst. He reports on human rights violations in Western Sahara and Morocco. He is the Director of Lakome2, a Rabat-based independent online newspaper focusing on civil liberties, human rights, and the promotion of the rights of access to information and freedom of expression. He is also the co-founder, along with fellow human rights defender Mr Maâti Monjib, of Freedom Now – Comité de protection de la liberté de la presse et d'expression au Maroc (Committee for the protection of freedom of the press and free expression in Morocco), a human rights organization which was denied registration by the authorities in May 2014.
On 24 December 2015, Ali Anouzla was summoned for interrogation by police in connection with comments made in an interview with the German newspaper Bild concerning Western Sahara. The human rights defender spoke about limitations on freedom of expression in Morocco, including repression of independent journalists, as well as corruption and human rights violations including torture. The charges are based on the fact that he reportedly used the term “occupied Western Sahara”. He denies using this term, maintaining that he was mistranslated.
While Front Line Defenders welcomes the acquittal of Ali Anouzla over charges of “undermining national territorial integrity”, charges of support for, incitement of and advocating terrorism remain outstanding against him. If convicted on these charges, the human rights defender could face up to 15 years imprisonment.
On 21 January 2016, human rights defender and journalist Mr Ali Anouzla was charged at the Tribunal of First Instance of Rabat with “undermining national territorial integrity”. The charges were brought against Ali Anouzla in connection with comments made during an interview on Western Sahara.
On 24 December 2015, Ali Anouzla was summoned for interrogation by police in connection with comments made in an interview with Bild newspaper concerning Western Sahara. During the interview, which took place in November 2015 in Berlin during the Raif Badawi Prize for Courageous Journalists 2015, the human rights defender spoke about limitations on freedom of expression in Morocco, including repression of independent journalists, as well as corruption and human rights violations including torture. The charges are based on the fact that he reportedly used the term “occupied Western Sahara”. He denies using this term, maintaining that he was mistranslated. The first hearing in his trial is scheduled for 9 February 2016. If found guilty, the human rights defender faces up to five years' imprisonment.
The journalist has previously faced judicial harassment in connection with his journalistic and human rights activities. In September 2013, he was arrested after publishing a video related to the armed group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, despite it being published alongside a disclaimer stating that it was a propaganda video published for journalistic reasons. He was released in October 2013, however charges of support, incitement and advocating terrorism remain outstanding against him. If convicted on these charges, the human rights defender could face up to 15 years' inprisonment.
Freedom of expression and human rights organisations call on the Moroccan authorities for all criminal charges facing Moroccan journalist and editor Ali Anouzla to be dropped at the Rabat court hearing scheduled on 18 February.
Anouzla, journalist and editor of the Arabic edition of the news website Lakome, was arrested on 17 September 2013 in connection with a 13 September news article published on the Arabic edition of Lakome, which included a link to a video posted on the website of the leading Spanish daily El País. The video, embedded from YouTube, allegedly sharply criticized King Mohammed VI of Morocco, accusing him of despotism and corruption, and called on Moroccan youth to engage in “Jihad”. YouTube has since removed the video. Anouzla was released on bail on 25 October.
While Lakome's article was critical of the video, on 24 September 2013, the investigating judge at the Rabat Court of Appeals indicted Ali Anouzla for “glorifying terrorism” under Article 218-2 of the Moroccan Penal Code and “materially assisting” under Article 218-6.
The provisions of the Criminal Code are vague and can be arbitrarily applied. The rule of law requires that rules especially those defining crimes be formulated with sufficient precision to enable people to regulate their conduct accordingly. Moreover, the crime in question concerns the right freedom of expression. This right is guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). As a state party to ICCPR since 3 May 1979 Morocco should ensure that it respect the right in a manner consistent with international law.
With respect to the circumstance of the instant case we recall that United Nations Human Rights Committee (the “UNHRC”), whose mandate is to interpret and supervise the implementation of the ICCPR, has stated in its 2011 General comment on Article 19:
The free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censorship or restraint and to inform public opinion. The public also has a corresponding right to receive media output.
It is not compatible with ICCPR to invoke provisions relating to national security to suppress or withhold from the public information of legitimate public interest that does not harm national security or to prosecute journalists, researchers, environmental activists, human rights defenders, or others, for having disseminated such information.
States parties should ensure that counter-terrorism measures are compatible with paragraph 3 of Article 19. Such offences as “encouragement of terrorism” and “extremist activity” as well as offences of “praising”, “glorifying”, or “justifying” terrorism, should be clearly defined to ensure that they do not lead to unnecessary or disproportionate interference with freedom of expression. Excessive restrictions on access to information must also be avoided. The media plays a crucial role in informing the public about acts of terrorism and its capacity to operate should not be unduly restricted. In this regard, journalists should not be penalized for carrying out their legitimate activities.
When a State party invokes a legitimate ground for restriction of freedom of expression, it must demonstrate in specific and individualized fashion the precise nature of the threat, and the necessity and proportionality of the specific action taken, in particular by establishing a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the threat.
Second, the article did not endanger national security. The Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, which are frequently cited by the UN human rights bodies and domestic courts, set out that an expression can be criminalised as a threat to national security only if three conditions are met: 1. the expression must is intended to incite imminent violence; 2. It is likely to incite such violence; and 3. there is a direct and immediate connection between the expression and the likelihood or occurrence of such violence. Vague notions such as the provision of assisting communications in terrorism or extremism, the 'glorification' or the 'promotion' of terrorism or extremism, and the mere repetition of statements made by terrorists do not themselves constitute incitation and must not be penalised. The facts in this case does not support the accusation of a terrorism crime. Ali Anouzla did not intent to incite immediate violence. Neither were his statements likely to incite violence.
Third, the journalist was reporting about the video which raised issues of public concerns. International law recognises that the media should be able to report on issues of public concern even when the underlying issues about which they are reporting relate to threats to national security. The Johannesburg Principles referred above set out that “Expression may not be prevented or punished merely because it transmits information issued by or about an organization that a government has declared threatens national security or a related interest.” Ali Anouzla was reporting about the video. He did not endorse the statements in it. Rather he was critical to it.
The undersigned organisations declare that the indictment of Ali Anouzla is unsupported by the evidence and unfounded under international law. It amounts to a violation of the journalist’s freedom of expression and his right to inform the public. Therefore they call for charges against Anouzla to be dropped, the end of judicial harassment against Anouzla and the ban on both Arabic and French-language versions of Lakome, blocked in Morocco since 17 October, to be lifted immediately.
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-violence Studies
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Centre for Law and Democracy (CLD)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Egyptian Coalition for the Rights of the Child
Egyptian Women’s Legal Foundation
Free Press Unlimited
Front Line Defenders
Hisham Mubarak Center for Law
Human Rights Legal Aid Group
International Media Support (IMS)
International Press Institute (IPI)
Journalists Without Rights
Land Center for Human Rights
Media Legal Defence Initiative (MLDI)
Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
Vigilance Association for Democracy and the Civic State
On 30 October 2013, human rights defender and journalist, Mr Ali Anouzla, appeared before the court to answer a charge of abetting terrorism, which carries a maximum sentence of twenty years' imprisonment. An investigating judge briefly interrogated him behind closed doors, before adjourning the hearing to 23 December 2013. On 14 September 2013, Lakome published an article about a video made by the Islamic Maghreb branch of Al Qaeda. The Arabic version of the site posted a link to the video. Lakome included a disclaimer that it was a propaganda video, published for journalistic reasons. Ali Anouzla was arrested three days later, on 17 September 2013. He was released on bail on 24 October. Ali Anouzla's supporters expressed the concern that the trial may be intentionally postposed repeatedly.
On 17 September 2013, Mr Ali Anouzla, a prominent journalist, human rights defender and editor of the online newspaper Lakome, was arrested in Rabat after being summoned for interrogation by the Moroccan authorities. Lakome's offices were raided and Ali Anouzla's personal laptop was confiscated.
According to the warrant summoning the human rights defender, his arrest is related to a video that was published on the Francophone version of Lakome, which was a video by the Islamic Maghreb branch of Al Qaeda, despite it being alongside a disclaimer by the newspaper that this was a propaganda video published for journalistic reasons. The Arabic version of the site only posted a link to the video, and not the video itself.
Ali Anouzla has faced judicial harassment by Moroccan authorities in the past. In 2009, a Casablanca Court tried the human rights defender following a complaint filed by then Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi in relation to an article which described the manner of his coming to office as “a coup”.
The same year, Ali Anouzla, who was Managing Editor of the independent daily Al-Jarida al-Oula at the time, was sentenced to a two-month suspended jail term and a fine of 200,000 dirhams (approximately €17,900) for "defamation" and "insulting the judiciary” alongside the paper's Publishing Director Jamal Boudouma.
This sentence followed a series of repressive incidents and lawsuits against the paper – including a fine of 160,000 dirhams (approximately €14,300) in a trial which Ali Anouzla had not been given notice to attend – as a result of publishing a news story reporting that a relative of the King had allegedly shot a traffic officer.