The scenario borders sheer absurdity. Ali Anouzla, a Moroccan editor and journalist, whose work is most often featured on the online Moroccan news publication, Lakome, was arrested for reporting on a video that the Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) released. The AQIM video targeted King Mohammed VI as leading a kingdom of “corruption” and “despotism.” Moreover, the video calls on Moroccans to wage a violent resistance to the monarchy’s rule. The video itself, with its context, origins, objectives, and timing, certainly merits coverage. And as Lakome stands as the most consistent source of information (they were the site that originally broke the story of #DanielGate: the royal pardon of the convicted Spanish pedophile), Lakome‘s coverage of this video breaks no norms. Contrary to reports circulating online, Lakome did not post the video, but rather published a screenshot along with a synopsis of its contents.
Three days after Lakome covered the video, news spread across social media that Ali Anouzla was interrogated, then arrested in response to Lakome‘s coverage of AQIM’s video. Moroccan site Yabiladi was one of the first to break the news based on confirmed information. Within hours, a #FreeAliAnouzla campaign was in full force, including the launch of a petition calling for his release. There are several factors to consider in light of this blatant violation of a basic journalistic freedom: the singling out of Ali Anouzla, an unchanged precedent of the regime’s oppression of online and independent media, and the outward projection of the Makhzen’s fragility and its insecurities.
Those who of us who first heard of Ali Anouzla’s arrest were dismayed but not surprised. Ali Anouzla has long been a torchbearer with regard to maintaining a critical perspective toward the Moroccan regime in its entirety–including the king. His articles carried a consistent bite that delivered incisive commentary that inspired, pushed boundaries, and set precedents. It was only this past June that Anouzla wrote a damning article that pointed out the king’s consistent absence from Morocco for his own personal vacations and the political implications behind those extended periods of absences. Anouzla also co-authored a pertinent piece with Aboubakr Jamaï, who heads the French version of Lakome, on how the inherent authoritarian nature of the Moroccan regime is a factor to consider regarding its position toward the Western Sahara.
The king and the Western Sahara are the unspoken “hands-off” topic in Moroccan media, unless the position being put forth explicitly supports the dominant narrative. Ali Anouzla has not shied away from not only addressing these “hands-off” topics, but more importantly, critically engaging them on an Arabic platform that predominately addresses Moroccan readers. There had been prior reports that Anouzla received visits from Moroccan intelligence officers, which has become a rite of passage for most critical writers and activists in Morocco. Though Anouzla, as a Moroccan living in Morocco writing pieces that critically engage dominant narratives, and whose pieces tend to see widespread dissemination, his writings have come to embody precisely what the Moroccan regime has attempted to subvert. Since the regime cannot arrest and/or interrogate every single Moroccan writer, journalist, editor, or activist, it takes a nuanced approach that is not always calculated to subvert these critical voices
For further reading on Ali Anouzla’s arrest:
- Lakome | Press release on the Ali Anouzla Affair
- Electronic Frontier Foundation | Critical Moroccan Editor Arrested for Linking to YouTube Video
- Agence France Presse | Morocco arrests website editor for airing Qaeda video
- Amnesty International | Morocco holding independent editor over coverage of al-Qa’ida video
- Committee to Protect Journalists | Moroccan editor arrested for publishing link to video
- Magharebia | Morocco website editor faces terror charges