Al Jazeera Morocco trial to resume

Bureau chief given just three days to prepare defence in false information case.

Al Jazeera Morocco trial
Hassan Rachidi has expressed confidence in the Moroccan justice system

The second court session is due to resume at around 9am (08:00 GMT) at the Rabat First Instance Court with up to 20 defence lawyers, who volunteered to defend Al Jazeera, expected to attend.

‘Political trial’

The way the court is pushing ahead with the case with just a short three-day adjournment for lawyers to prepare, has led many human rights activists, journalists and lawyers to believe that the trial is politically motivated.

In previous cases against journalists in Morocco, proceedings were adjourned for at least a week and often two.

Khalid Soufiani, who is leading the defence team, told Al Jazeera that “this is a political trial”.

“All other ordinary cases in today’s hearings were shelved till September and October, except ours,” he said.

“Though we appealed to the judge to give us more time to better prepare our argument and to treat this case as any other ordinary one, he dismissed our appeal.”

Lhbib Haji, another defence lawyer, called it “bad faith from the authorities in order to speed up the indictment”.

“It is a clear violation of all human rights charters,” he said.

Haytham Menna, a spokesperson for the Arab Commission for Human Rights, concurred that “unfortunately, this is a political trial”.

“The withdrawal of press accreditation from Rachidi before the closure of the case is a political stance and not a judicial one. This stance does not show any respect to justice and can be explained only as a political decision.”

Two sides of story

Rachidi, who has pleaded not guilty, said that he did his job as journalist and provided two sides of the story in question.

But while he was surprised by the short term postponement, Rachidi expressed confidence in the Moroccan justice system.

Soufiani, right, and Menna agreed that the trial was politically motivated

“I trust the Moroccan system of justice and all I want is a fair trial,” he said.

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 a probe 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.

The trial and the confiscation of Rachidi’s press accreditation further damaged the already strained relations between the kingdom and the channel.

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 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,” lead defence lawyer Soufiani explained to 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,” he said.

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