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Moroccan journalist jailed over state secrets is freed

A Moroccan journalist sentenced to eight months in prison in August for publishing secret military intelligence documents was released on probation Tuesday by the appeals court in Casablanca.

"I am happy to be free and to rejoin my family after being unjustly deprived of my freedom for several weeks," Mustapha Hurmatallah said after emerging from Casablanca's Okacha prison. A visibly relaxed Allah picked up his son one-year-old son Sufian in his arms after being greeted by his wife and his two lawyers outside the prison, Agence France-Presse (AFP) has reported.

Moroccan journalist Mustapha Hurmatallah (centre) celebrates upon his release from the Oukacha prison in Casablanca. Allah, sentenced to eight months in prison in August for publishing secret military intelligence documents, was released on probation Tuesday by the appeals court in Casablanca. (AFP)

“We are pleased that a judge finally agreed to put an end to this journalist’s imprisonment, which was unacceptable,” Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “We now hope that Hurmatallah will be acquitted on appeal. This would be the only honourable outcome to a case that has done great harm to press freedom in Morocco and has traumatised its journalists.”

He told journalists how he had spent 55 days "in a cell with 70 other detainees, without television or newspapers. "It was an experience," he said. "I am relieved and happy that the court has decided to release Mustapha Hurmatallah on probation," the journalist's boss, Abderrahim Ariri, director of the Al Watan Al An weekly, told AFP.

Ariri was given a suspended six-month sentence and both men were fined 1,000 dirhams (90 euros, 120 dollars) for an article entitled "Secret reports behind the state of alert in Morocco" in the July 14 edition of Al Watan Al An. The sentences were widely condemned by the media.

The court is due to pronounce its verdict on the appeal on November 7.

Four lawyers spoke in Hurmatallah’s defence during today’s first hearing in his appeal case. They said Hurmatallah and his editor, Abderrahim Ariri, could not be accused of “receiving and concealing” state documents as they had already published them. They also disputed the charge of “violating state security”on the grounds that the two journalists had only wanted to inform the Moroccan public about issues involving its security. “The press hides nothing and reveals everything,” one of the lawyers told the court.

The judge consented to their request for Hurmatallah’s provisional release after they argued that the journalist, who is married and has one child, needed to be with his family during “the sacred month of Ramadan.” Previous requests for his release had been turned down.

Hurmatallah had been detained since 17 July, the date on which he and his editor were arrested over a series of stories in the 14 July issue headlined, “The secret reports behind Morocco’s state of alert.” A Casablanca court convicted them on 15 August of “receiving documents obtained by criminal means” under article 571 of the criminal code. Ariri, who had been released on 24 July, received a six-month suspended sentence but Hurmatallah was ordered to serve a sentence of eight months in prison.

Date posted: September 12, 2007 Date modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 8