King Muhammad VI decided to release Ali Lamrabet, who was serving a three year prison sentence, and 32 other political prisoners on Wednesday.

Lamrabet, editor of a satirical magazine and a newspaper, was convicted on charges of "undermining the monarchy" and "threatening the integrity of the national territory".

The monarch freed five other journalists and more than 20 Islamists, two of whom were convicted of involvement in the 1975 murder of socialist leader Umar Benjelloun.

After the move was announced, a royal palace official said the decision was taken after pleas for pardon were received.

Human rights 

“His majesty king Muhammed VI has once again illustrated his determination to strengthen the rule of law and to uphold human rights," the official said. 

“His majesty king Muhammed VI has once again illustrated his determination to strengthen the rule of law and to uphold human rights... This decision is in keeping with the praiseworthy royal tradition of granting pardon and forgiveness in accordance... with Islamic ideals which advocate tolerance and forgiveness"

Moroccan palace official

"This decision is in keeping with the praiseworthy royal tradition of granting pardon and forgiveness in accordance... with Islamic ideals which advocate tolerance and forgiveness."

He added the decision reflects "the will of a people who neither turn their backs on their past, nor remain prisoners of its shortcomings.

"Instead, they derive strength and dynamism from it to build a modern, democratic society, wherein all citizens may exercise their rights and carry out their duties freely and responsibly”.

The statement came shortly after the king had emphasised his commitment to human rights reforms.

Muhammad VI stressed Morocco's resolve to settle the "thorny" issue of human rights abuses "through further equitable out-of-court settlements, as well as by healing past wounds and redressing the damage done".

Prisoners of conscience

Human rights group Amnesty International, which campaigned for Lamrabet's release, has welcomed his pardon.

But Philip Luther, Amnesty's North Africa researcher, told Aljazeera.net on Wednesday there are still hundreds of political prisoners in Morocco.

"This is a positive step," he said. "Apart from Lamrabet many other human rights defenders were released... Quite a number of them have been in prison since the 1970s.

"We now urge the Moroccan authorties to release other prisoners of conscience and political prisoners who have been convicted after unfair trials and after being tortured. I am talking especially about those who were arrested after the Casablanca car bomings last year."

Scores of Islamists were arrested
after the Casablanca bombings

Luther added that he hopes the pardons are not just token gestures.

Torture and impunity

"There have genuinely been some postive steps in Morocco but there have also been some negative ones as well, especially the arrests and convictions of Islamists in the last few years.

"The major problem is that of impunity. At the moment, those who torture do not risk being called to account for their actions. While this is the case any real reform in Morocco will be fragile."

Ali Lamrabet was serving a three-year prison sentence after expressing opinions on the monarchy and the status of the disputed province of Western Sahara.

Founder of the French-language weekly Demain Magazine and the similarly named newspaper, Demain, his conviction was based on several articles, cartoons and a photo-montage which had appeared in his publications.

He angered the Moroccan authorities by publishing an article implicating the political left in a 1972 coup attempt against the late king Hasan II.

Free speech

"The major problem is that of impunity. At the moment, those who torture do not risk being called to account for their actions. While this is the case any real reform in Morocco will be fragile"

Philip Luther,
Amnesty International

The journalist was also cited for "disseminating false information which undermines public order or is likely to undermine it "after publishing an article on a royal palace in Demain Magazine in October 2001.

The article speculated that the palace was to be sold to foreign investors wanting to turn it into a tourist complex.

The magazine also included an article featuring an interview with a former Moroccan political prisoner advocating the right to self-determination for Sahrawis in Western Sahara.

The monarchy and the status of Western Sahara are taboo subjects for public discussion in Morocco.

Lamrabet protested against his detention by going on hunger strike and last year had to be admitted to hospital.

Before Lamrabet's pardon Amnesty International urged Morocco to either abolish or review all legislation which prescribes prison sentences "for the peaceful exercise of free speech".