HRW denounces misuse of law by Morocco to silence Sahrawi reporter

New York, May 18, 2019 (SPS) – Moroccan authorities are using a law designed to keep people from falsely claiming professional credentials to bring criminal charges against people trying to expose abuses, Human Rights Watch said in a statement Thursday.

In the latest case, Nezha Khalidi, who is affiliated with the activist group Equipe Media in El-Ayoun, Western Sahara, will go on trial on May 20, 2019, accused of not meeting the requirements to call herself a journalist. Police arrested her on December 4, 2018, as she was livestreaming on Facebook a street scene in Western Sahara and denouncing Moroccan “repression.” She faces two years in prison if convicted, added the organization which defends human rights worldwide.

“People who speak out peacefully should never have to fear prison for ‘pretending’ to be journalists,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities shouldn’t be using a law designed to keep an unqualified person from claiming to be a doctor, for example, to punish people whose commentary displeases them.”

The police released Khalidi after four hours on December 4, 2018, but confiscated the smartphone she had used to film a street scene, which ended with a policeman chasing her. On May 15, she told Human Rights Watch that she never got her smartphone back. The El-Ayoun Court of First Instance will judge her case.

Authorities also arrested Khalidi in 2016, as she covered a women’s demonstration in El-Ayoun on behalf of Equipe Media. The authorities held her overnight and confiscated her camera and memory card, then released her without charge, she told Human Rights Watch.

“Providing information, images, and commentary without official accreditation should not be criminalized the way practicing medicine or driving a truck without a license should be,” Goldstein said. (SPS)