Career opportunities: journalism as terrorism- the case of Ali Anouzla
September 29, 2013 Leave a comment
The war on journalism has gone beyond the frontiers of the United States and its always faithful foot soldier, the United Kingdom. A worldwide trend to consider journalism a form of terrorism and in less specific, loaded terms, a form of assault against governance and state power in general has swept across the world, leaving in its wake the feeble flickers of civil and political rights. Human Rights Watch recently published a report on the status of journalism in Yemen, calling it a “life-threatening career”. It’s not just Yemen, or Brazil, or the United States. It is everywhere. The latest assault on freedom of information emerged in Morocco, where independent journalist Ali Anouzla was recently arrested on terrorism charges. His crime? To have published an article criticizing the regime.
Reuters claimed that Anouzla was known, domestically and abroad, for being a pro-active opponent to the regime of Mohamed VI, current king of Morocco, and uncovering stories related to dysfunction of the palace. His readership is, according to fellow journalist Samia Errazouki, loyal and strong in an “unprecedented fashion”. Journalist and editor of his own website, Lakome.com, Anouzla recently published an article regarding the activities of Al-Quaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), linking to spanish daily newspaper El Pais, itself linking to an AQIM video promoting jihad in Northern African countries. This article, in no way, shape or form endorsing the beliefs of AQIM nor condoning their action was the reason given by the prosecutor for Anouzla’s arrest. Arrested on September 17 and charged only a week later, on September 25, he will face trial for “providing tools to execute acts of terrorism, acclamation of terrorist crimes, defending terrorism and providing material assistance”. Ali Anouzla linked to a newspaper linking to a video. Anouzla had never in his entire career even brushed with the possibility of ever accepting AQIM’s activities in Morocco or elsewhere.
Ali Anouzla, however, is far from being your average journalist. An independent free thinker, his articles have often disrupted the activities of the state. Anouzla was the one to uncover the Gavlan affair, and regularly denounced the lack of authority – “absenteism”, as he called it – of the King, the complete oligarchy of the inner palace circles, and liberticide lawmaking enforced since the constitutional assembly in 2011. In a statement made by fellow moroccan journalists calling for his release, Anouzla is referred to as the “last independent and free journalist” left after the 2011 constitutional overhaul condemned freedom of the press. Ahmed Benchemsi refers to Anouzla as a “survivor” of the days when Morocco had a free press; he even refers to Anouzla’s arrest as a “hogra“, an arabic term describing the commitment of a crime followed by punishment carried out in complete impunity. There is no doubt in the mind of observers of Moroccan freedoms that the arrest of Anouzla is a pretext to shut him down and destroy the activities considered as pervasive on Lakome.com.
If the rest of the independent press has been astonishingly silent, the Minister of Communications, however, ensured everybody understood the damaging impact behind Anouzla’s arrest. “This is not a freedom of expression issue”, he stated, “this is a terrorism issue”. Informing people about terrorism, informing people of a possible threat, and discussing the ideology behind terrorism is apparently a form of terrorism. Which implies that infomation in itself is a form of terrorism. A government spokesperson continued: “His arrest has a political impact, because (the article) infringes on the Moroccan model of peace and stability.” What stability exactly?
According to the 1995 Johannesburg Principles, which intend to guide freedom of information and expression in relation to national security, “Freedom of expression and information can only be regarded as a threat to national security if the government can demonstrate expression is intended to incite imminent violence.” If current rhetoric constantly and regularly checks back on what constitutes an “imminent threat”, it is perceived, per Johannesburg Principles and per the guiding doctrine of human rights law, that information regarding violence is not violence; that denunciation of political violence is not violence; that observation of independent information is not violence; that a thorough and argued criticism of the system does not constitute an imminent threat to the system. It is, however, an underlying threat to the system, one that must be maintained and cherished as an instrument of checks and balances. There is no better tool of democracy that an informed population. Anouzla’s crime has clearly been to stand in the way of the King and the generals ruling over the royal palace.
Morocco is judged by the Freedom House to be lacking in free press, and currently ranks 136th in freedom of the press in a recent report by Reporters Without Borders.
Ali Anouzla must be freed and exonerated of all charges.
With great thanks to the team at freeanouzla.com