A Moroccan journalist arrested last week for posting a link to an Al-Qaeda video has been charged with defending and inciting “terrorism,” his lawyers said on Wednesday.
Ali Anouzla, director of the Arabic version of independent news website Lakome, was arrested on September 17 after his website posted a link to the video attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the jihadist network’s North African affiliate.
Anouzla appeared before a judge at the court of appeal in Rabat on Tuesday evening, where the public prosecutor called for him to be investigated for “defending,” providing “material assistance to,” and “inciting terrorist acts,” the prosecutor’s office said.
He was then formally charged on the basis of those accusations, two of his lawyers said on Wednesday.
“He is being officially prosecuted and is now in custody,” Omar Benjelloun told AFP.
Lakome described the charges as “surreal.”
The journalist has been transferred to Sale prison, near Rabat, where prisoners convicted of terrorism offences are held, after being detained at a police station in Casablanca following his arrest.
Benjelloun said the judge has five months to complete the investigation, which will be conducted within the framework of Morocco’s draconian anti-terrorist law.
Police arrested Anouzla, seizing computer equipment from his office, after a Lakome article carried a link to Spanish newspaper El Pais’ website, where the Al-Qaeda video had been posted.
The 41-minute video, entitled “Morocco: the kingdom of corruption and despotism”, and which first appeared on the Internet on September 12, calls for jihad in the North African country and lashes out at King Mohamed VI.
Anouzla’s arrest has been denounced by rights groups in and outside Morocco, with Amnesty International calling him a prisoner of conscience, and demanding his immediate release.
Reporters Without Borders condemned the charges brought against him, saying Anouzla was “paying the price for his independence… and for his fight for the freedom of expression in his country.”
Moroccan journalists are expected to hold protests in Rabat, Casablanca and Tangiers on Thursday.
Moroccan authorities, together with the main political parties and pro-regime media accuse Anouzla and Lakome of giving a platform to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The government has also threatened legal action against El Pais.
Anouzla is an experienced journalist formerly with pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat who is known for sharply criticising state institutions, including the monarchy, effectively a taboo subject in the Moroccan media, and has been prosecuted in the past.
He was the first Moroccan journalist to break the story of a convicted Spanish paedophile who was freed last month under a royal pardon along with dozens of other Spanish nationals held in Moroccan jails.
The monarchy’s decision to pardon a man convicted of raping 11 children and serving a 30 year sentence sparked angry protests across Morocco.
The pardon was blamed on a clerical error by the prisons department and hastily revoked.