/ 9 September 2008

Moroccan blogger jailed for disparaging king

A blogger who accused Morocco’s monarchy of encouraging a culture of dependency where loyalty is rewarded with favours has been jailed for showing disrespect for King Mohammed, his family and rights groups said on Tuesday.

Mohamed Erraji (29) wrote in online newspaper Hespress that the North African kingdom had been destroyed by the practice of handing out charity or gifts such as taxi licences to a lucky few, which encouraged people to beg.

”This has made the Moroccans a people without dignity, who live by donations and gifts,” he wrote.

Police arrested Erraji on Friday and he was brought for trial on Monday in Agadir without the presence of a defence lawyer, according to a member of his family. He was given a two-year prison sentence and fined 5 000 dirhams ($626).

”He was judged in 10 minutes,” said the relative who said he was present at the trial. ”The judge passed sentence very quickly but we couldn’t hear what was being said. He had no opportunity to explain himself.”

Reporters sans Frontières said the sentence was ”worthy of the most totalitarian states” and demanded Erraji’s liberation.

Government officials could not be reached for comment.

Erraji, from a poor family in the small town of Biougra near Agadir, suffers from weak health and lacks a regular job, said the relative who asked not to be named. ”Mohamed has only a basic education but he is a free thinker who simply wants the best for his country,” he said.

The head of Moroccan human rights group AMDH, Khadija Riyadi, said Erraji’s comments did not constitute an insult to the king but were political view’s on how Morocco is governed.

”The basic elements of a fair trial were not respected,” she said. ”It happened so quickly that all his rights were flouted.”

Morocco’s press code makes it an offence to show disrespect to the king.

A young man who set up a profile in the name of King Mohammed’s brother Moulay Rachid on social networking site Facebook was jailed in February but released a month later by royal pardon after a worldwide internet campaign. – Reuters