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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 01:08 GMT
Morocco editors jailed
Journalists protest
Journalists have protested against press bans
A Moroccan court has jailed two leading journalists from an independent newspaper for defaming a government minister.

Aboubakr Jamai and Ali Amar, who worked as editor and assistant-editor of the weekly paper Le Journal, were sentenced to two and three months in jail.


[The verdict is] very tough and aimed at silencing Moroccan independent publications

Le Journal editor Aboubakr Jamai
They were sentenced for an article published in 1999 in which they accused Moroccan Foreign Minister Mohammed Benaissa of embezzling public funds when he was ambassador to Washington in the mid-1990s.

The editors were ordered to pay Mr Benaissa $200,000 in damages.

'Silencing' measures

Mr Jamai told Reuters news agency the damages had to be paid within 15 days or the court could seize the newspapers assets.

He described the verdict as "very tough and aimed at silencing Moroccan independent publications".

Le Journal itself was closed down last December, accused of destabilising the state, and reopened in January as Le Noveau Journal.

The newspaper has eight days to appeal against Thursday's ruling.

The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders called on Morocco's Justice Minister, Omar Azziman, to overturn the verdict.

"Fines should not be used by the authorities with the aim of halting the appearance or publication of a media," a statement from the media-watchdog said.

Media monitoring groups say that 10 foreign and local newspapers were banned in Morocco last year. And the bureau chief of the French news agency AFP was expelled in November.

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See also:

11 Jan 01 | Africa
Moroccan editor on hunger strike
03 Dec 00 | Africa
Fury at Morocco press ban
12 Dec 00 | Africa
E-mails evade Morocco rally gag
07 Nov 00 | Africa
Morocco expels French journalist
19 Apr 00 | Media reports
Morocco's TV clampdown
16 Oct 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Morocco
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