(MintPress) – Moroccan journalist and human rights advocate Youssef Jajili is facing charges this week of defamation for exposing corruption within the Moroccan government. The trial against the human rights advocate began yesterday amid growing international condemnation of King Muhammad VI and his government’s ongoing assault on the free press.
The 29-year-old journalist has been charged with criminal defamation in response to bold reports exposing corruption and human rights abuses within the Moroccan government. Jajili runs one of the few critical publications in the North African kingdom, founding Alaan Magazine, a publication launched April 2012 that calls out Moroccan authorities for human rights violations.
King Muhammad VI has ruled as an absolute monarch since 1999 and has drawn increasing internal opposition to his rule in recent years, commensurate to the rise in Arab Spring activism.
Jajili’s trial opened Monday with major human rights organizations lining up in defense of the embattled journalist. Reporters Without Borders, The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), The International Freedom of Expression Exchange network (IFEX) , and The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) have all denounced the Moroccan government’s criminal defamation case against Jajili as an ‘intimidation tactic’ designed to silence the independent press.
“The current charges against me are politicized and are being used to try to silence my journalism and my magazine,” said Jajili, who won Morocco’s prestigious National Press Award in 2011. “I am not a criminal. I am a journalist who has done nothing but fulfill my ultimate duty which is to serve as a watchdog on the government and expose corruption, truth.”
Jailing Arab Spring protesters
While Morocco has largely been spared the major anti-government protests seen in other Arab countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Bahrain, journalists continue to suffer censorship, assault and imprisonment.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a free press advocacy organization, several Moroccan journalists have been targeted by police during anti-government protests in 2011.
CPJ reports that several journalists were assaulted by police while covering the violent dispersal of peaceful protesters by authorities. During the April 2011 protests, Rachid Nini, a prominent government critic and executive editor of the Moroccan daily Al-Massae, was detained and sentenced to one year in prison on charges of “denigrating judicial rulings” and “compromising the security and safety of the homeland and citizens.”
While Yousef’s case is a flagrant violation of the free press and individual human rights, other artists and academics writing about protests in the Middle East have suffered worse punishments for their advocacy.
Muhammad ibn al-Dheeb al-Ajami, a Qatari poet, was given a life sentence in prison November 2012 for writing a poem inspired by the Arab Spring. Ajami’s lawyer Najib al-Nuaimi, said he plans to appeal the harsh sentence.