Al-Jazeera's Morocco bureau chief charged in 'misinformation' row

Other News Materials 14 June 2008 09:28 (UTC +04:00)

The Moroccan bureau head of Arab satellite news broadcaster Al-Jazeera has been charged along with a human rights official with publishing false information and conspiracy, a court source said Friday.

On Monday, the Moroccan government asked the Qatari-based station to issue a public retraction after it stated that several protesters had died during clashes between unemployed youths and the police in the southwestern Moroccan port, the AFP reported.

Authorities categorically denied any loss of life, with the official toll of injured amounting to 48 people including 28 police officers, amid 188 arrests.

"The Rabat chief prosecutor's office ordered detectives to hold a preliminary investigation following the broadcast Saturday, by Al-Jazeera from its Rabat bureau, of information stating that there had been deaths during demonstrations in Sidi Ifni," the source said.

"Upon completion of the investigation, carried out in accordance with the law, Al-Jazeera's bureau director in Rabat, Hassan Rachidi, and Ibrahim Sebaa El Layl (an official with the Moroccan committee for human rights) have been charged with publishing false information and conspiracy, under the terms of article 42 of the press code," the official told national news agency MAP.

Their trial is expected to being on July 1st in Rabat.

"I am very surprised by this decision, but I believe (the authorities) want the head of the (Al-Jazeera) bureau chief," Rachidi told AFP.

"We received the information from a well-respected human rights association which had given a press conference to announce the news," he underlined.

El Layl, of the Moroccan Human Rights Centre (CMDH), had told the Saturday press conference that "between one and five deaths" had been recorded.

In May 2008, Paris-based media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on Rabat to reverse a decision to stop the pan-Arab satellite TV news station from broadcasting a daily news programme covering the Maghreb countries from its studios in the Moroccan capital.