Al Jazeera lawyers quit Rabat trial

Proceedings adjourned after defence team walks out over “lack of fair trial conditions”.

Rachidi is facing prosecution under Article 42of the country's press code [AFP]
Rachidi is facing prosecution under Article 42of the country's press code [AFP]

The presiding judge and the attorney general then addressed a few questions to Rachidi, who pleaded not guilty and insisted that he did his job as a professional journalist and provided both sides of the story in question.

The session was then adjourned at around 10pm (2100GMT).

Defence walkout

The defence attorneys began their argument by calling the charges brought against Rachidi void since the press code, under which Al Jazeera’s bureau chief was prosecuted, can be applicable only on the director of publication of the media organisation concerned.

“Since Rachidi is not the person in charge of the editorial policy of Al Jazeera and not the person to decide which story to be published or not, we call on your honour to drop all charges against our client,” Khalid Soufiani, leader of the defence team argued.

The lawyers submitted to the court a copy of Rachidi’s confiscated press accreditation, issued by the Moroccan communication ministry, which states the profession of Rachidi as reporter.

“As Mr Rachidi, according to the Moroccan official document, is a reporter and not the person in charge of publication in Al Jazeera, we say that this trial is illegal” another lawyer said.

The lawyers also criticised the main document submitted by the general prosecutor to the court – a news report that was run earlier by Morocco’s official news agency MAP.

But the judge rejected all defence arguments as unfounded.

He also turned down a petition to call for witnesses that included ministers, senior civilian and military officials to testify before the court on the events in the southern port city of Sidi Ifni that brought Rachidi to court.

They also demanded those in charge of the Reuters news agency and the Moroccan daily Al Ahdath – which both reported that people were killed in the Sidi Ifni protests – as well as heads of various human rights groups, stand before the judge as witnesses.

The defence’s cross-examination of a CD submitted by the general prosecutor was also turned down.

Court disruption

Earlier in the day, the proceedings were disrupted by Ali Lmrabet, a Moroccan journalist, who was sentenced by the same judge in 2003 to three years in prison and was suspended from practicing journalism in Morocco for 10 years.

“I am here to remind you Mohammed El-Alaoui, the presiding judge. My name is Ali Lmrabet, the journalist that you have suspended from practicing the profession of journalism in Morocco for 10 years that I am actually doing my job as a journalist in spite of your order. And you can do nothing about it,” Lmrabet shouted before he was dragged by the police out of the court room.

Ahmed Snousi, a Moroccan satirist, was also ejected from the court room for reciting slogans in support of Lmrabet, who spent seven months in jail before he was a granted a pardon by the king.

Lmrabet is now a reporter of the Spanish newspaper El Mondo.

Strained relations

Rachidi is charged with reporting that people were killed in clashes with security forces in the southwestern port city of Sidi Ifni on June 7 during a protest over poverty and rising unemployment.

Moroccan authorities have rejected as “false” and “absurd” reports of deaths, saying that 48 people were injured, including 28 police officers, but that no deaths occurred.

Although Al Jazeera reported the government’s denial, the Rabat chief prosecutor’s office ordered an investigation to determine how the false information was disseminated.

Rachidi was interrogated by the judiciary police for four hours and was charged on June 14 with publishing false information and conspiracy.

Minutes later, the Moroccan communication ministry withdrew his media accreditation.

Rachidi’s trial is the latest in a series of incidents that have seen the channel come into conflict with the kingdom’s authorities.

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 decision, according to Khalid Naciri, the Moroccan communication minister and a spokesman for the government, was due to technical and legal issues.

Rachidi is facing prosecution under Article 42 of the country’s press code.

“The press code requires that two conditions be satisfied in order to convict someone for publishing false information under Article 42,” Soufiani, the lead defence lawyer, told Al Jazeera.

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

If convicted, Rachidi could be sentenced to a prison term of between one and 12 months and a fine of up to $13,750.

Source : Al Jazeera


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