Morocco: Journalists Stand Trial for Use of Smartphone App

Photo Credit: Reuters

In Morocco, seven journalists are standing trial in connection with their involvement with a citizen journalism training program utilizing a smartphone app. They are accused of “threatening the internal security of the state” by using “propaganda” that may threaten the “loyalty that citizens owe to the State and institutions of the Moroccan people” under Article 206 of the Penal Code. Two of the journalists are also accused of receiving foreign funding without prior authorization from the government.

If convicted, the activists could face up to five years in prison. The journalists are reportedly free pending the outcome of their trial, but could be arrested at any moment should the courts convict them. The trial, set for Wednesday, June 29, was then postponed [Fr] until October 26 as a result of a procedural error. International observers were present at the trial.

The training of citizen journalists utilized the app StoryMaker, a secure and open-source storytelling app designed to help citizen journalists write and publish professional-level news reports through their smartphones. The app was developed by Dutch organization Free Press Unlimited, as well as the Guardian Project and Small World News. Free Press Unlimited reported that its requests to meet with Moroccan authorities to explain their work and the StoryMaker app were denied; it continues to call for all charges against the seven journalists to be dropped.

Among the seven journalists accused is Maati Monjib, president of Freedom Now and member of the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism. Monjib has faced charges related to freedom of expression in previous years, most notably in September of this year when he was prevented from traveling abroad by Moroccan authorities. He is considered by many as the prime target of this lawsuit. Several of those accused were also involved with the February 20 Movement, Morocco’s peaceful pro-democracy and anti-corruption movement that arose in the context of the popular Arab uprisings of 2011.

Morocco recently overhauled parts of its Penal Code, a process that has been applauded by rights groups. Despite these positives, there are many issues still yet to be resolved, and recent months have seen a crackdown on both journalists and foreign funding. The reforms to the Penal Code, for instance, failed to amend or repeal Article 206, which is frequently used to violate freedom of expression.

Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, stated that this trial is “a worrying test case for press freedom in Morocco,” further commenting that “the accusations that journalists and citizens reporting freely in their country are compromising state security…are deeply alarming.” She also called upon the Moroccan government to drop the charges against the journalists and “repeal or amend Article 206, so that it can no longer be used to arbitrarily restrict freedom of expression.”