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Another large fine imposed on beleaguered Arabic-language newspaper in Morocco

Another large fine imposed on beleaguered Arabic-language newspaper in Morocco
Rachid Nini, publisher of Morocco's Al-Massae newspaper.

Rachid Nini, publisher of Al-Massae newspaper, has been fined another 600,000 dirhams (54,000 euros) by a Casablanca court for allegedly libelling a prominent lawyer. The fine, imposed on December 1, may force Morocco’s leading Arabic-language daily to close down.

Al-Massae had already said it would probably have to shut down after an appeal court ruling on October 30 confirming that it would have to pay a total of 6 million dirhams (550,000 euros) in damages and a fine of 120,000 dirhams (11,000 euros) in a separate libel case.

The latest libel suit against Al-Massae was brought by Mohammed Ziane, the head of the Rabat bar association. Ziane represented the four deputy prosecutors from the northern town of Ksar Al Kébir who obtained the massive damages award against Nini in October which neither he nor the newspaper is able to pay.

Four days after the October ruling, Nini reported that a court bailiff had blocked both his personal account and the account of the company that publishes the newspaper.

Ziane’s suit was prompted by an article reporting allegations that he had fraudulently acquired some land in the north of the country. “The courts have become a tool for censoring the independent press in Morocco,” Nini told Paris-based Reporters sans Frontières (RSF). “Whoever sues our newspaper is nowadays guaranteed to win.”

“Everyone has the right to sue if they think they have been defamed, but the media must also be guaranteed the right to a fair and impartial trial,” RSF said. “For nearly two years, the Moroccan courts have shown a lack of independence in trial after trial. If this latest ruling is not overturned on appeal, Al-Massae will be forced to close and this would have disastrous consequences, not only for media diversity but also for the ability of all journalists to speak their mind in Morocco.”

A Rabat appeal court on October 30 had upheld a lower court’s decision in March ordering Nini to pay a total of 6 million dirhams (550,000 euros) in damages and a fine of 120,000 dirhams (11,000 euros) in a libel case. The lower court had ordered exorbitant damages and fine on March 25 in a libel case brought against the newspaper by four deputy prosecutors in the northern town of Ksar Al-Kébir over an article that said regional officials had attended a supposedly gay marriage ceremony. The officials were not identified.

Nini told RSF at the time, “This ruling is very serious because it sets a legal precedent for press cases. Tomorrow, another newspaper could be ordered to pay a similarly astronomic sum. This ruling is a disgrace for my country.”

Date posted: December 4, 2008 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 209