Court rejects Al Jazeera case delay

Al Jazeera's Morocco bureau chief given just three days to build defence case.

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    Rachidi could be sentenced to up to 12 months in prison and a fine of almost $14,000

    The offence is punishable by a prison term of between one and 12 months and a fine of up to $13,750.

    Rachidi, who pleads not guilty, said that he was "surprised by the judge's decision of short term postponement of the trial" at the Rabat First Instance Court.

    "But I hope and trust in the Moroccan system of justice and all I want is a fair trial," he said.

    Khaled Soufiani, the defence team's leader, said the judge's decision was a bad sign for Al Jazeera and that Rachidi could face a harsh punishment.

    El-Alaoui previously sentenced journalist Mrabet Ali to three years in prison in 2003 for "endangering the integrity of national territory" in articles and interviews that appeared in two Casablanca-based publications.

    He also sentenced al-Watan al-An journalist Mustafa Hurmatallah to seven months in prison in 2007 for publishing a leaked internal security memo.

    Support

    Dozens of lawyers from Morocco turned up at the trial in Rabat to support Rachidi.

    Soufiani said Rachidi could face
    a harsh decision on July 4
    Lhbib Haji, a volunteer lawyer who came from Tetouan, northern Morocco, said that it was the defence team's right to have sufficient time to prepare for the case.

    "It's not enough time to prepare the case," he said.

    "It is a sacred right for the defence team to have more time to prepare their case.

    "Two days are not enough to prove anything and it is not enough to know the result of the fact-finding mission into whether people died or not, or whether Al Jazeera provided false statements.

    "This is bad faith from the authorities to speed up the indictment ...  It is a clear violation of human rights charters."

    Human rights activists were also present at the hearing, including Haytham Menna, spokesperson of the Arab Commission for Human Rights.

    "There is no doubt that there is a link between the trial, Al Jazeera and the deterioration of press freedom in Morocco," Menna said.

    "We are expecting the court to prove to us where that bad faith charge lies. Because the same story was run by Reuters [news agency] and the Moroccan daily al-Ahdath.

    "Nobody should have been taken to court," he said.

    Accusation

    Rachidi was charged on June 14 with publishing false information and conspiracy, under Article 42 of the country's press code.

    Al Jazeera's Morocco bulletin was suspended in May [AFP]

    Moroccan authorities rejected as "false" and "absurd" the reports of deaths in the Sidi Ifni protest.

    They say that 48 people were injured in the protests, including 28 police officers, but that no-one was killed.

    Soufiani said that the press code invoked by the judge would need to satisfy two conditions if Rachidi is to be sentenced.

    "The first condition is the publication of false information with the intention of bad faith and, second, that that publication disturbs the public order," he said.

    In May, Morocco suspended Al Jazeera's daily television news bulletin covering the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania) from its studios in the Moroccan capital.

    The action was condemned by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), describing it as "inexplicable".

    Menna said there were "two kinds of mentality spread in the Arab world these days. The first is a police mentality, which believes that by arrests and harrassment everything can be solved".

    "The second is a civilian one which believes in justice and dialogue."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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