Judicial officials said that Ali Limrabit, the editor of two satirical papers, was convicted on Tuesday for defaming an association of the families of refugees from the Polisario Front, a rebel group in neighboring Western Sahara, which is controlled by Morocco.

In a newspaper interview published in January, Limrabit denied claims by Morocco's government that the refugees had been "sequestered" in Algeria, and alleged that they are free to move about.

Controversial

Limrabit, no stranger to controversy, was freed from prison in January on a pardon from King Muhammad VI. He had served seven months of a three-year sentence for "insulting the king." In Morocco, the king is considered "inviolable and sacred" under the constitution.

Limrabit, who has dual French-Moroccan citizenship and lives in Spain, condemned the ruling. He was also fined $5800.
 
"This is appalling - a summary judgment, a judgment worthy of a banana monarchy," he said. "No judge can accept a suit like this without instructions from the royal palace - the instruction comes from Muhammad VI."

"Never in the history of Morocco has a journalist been sentenced to such a long ban," Lmrabet said, vowing to appeal.

Media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders also criticised the ruling, saying the court in Rabat had denied Limrabit's lawyer the chance to make his case, and
refused to hear defense witnesses.

Morocco is sensitive about the Western Sahara, which the kingdom annexed in 1975. The Polisario Front considers the territory - formerly known as the Spanish Sahara - to be independent.