Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Hicham Mansouri (36) is an investigative journalist and was one of the coordinators of the StoryMaker project in Morocco. Mansouri believes that “StoryMaker can serve people who sincerely want to advocate for human rights.”

Hicham Mansouri is one of the five Moroccan human rights defenders who was charged with “threatening the internal security of the State” last year. Mansouri worked as a coordinator of the StoryMaker project in Morocco. StoryMaker is a tool designed to train citizens and journalists to create and share stories. The project was aimed at helping journalists and citizen journalists become professional storytellers by focusing on fundamentals of journalism, photo, audio, video and storytelling. StoryMaker makes storytelling easy with guided templates and a simple editing suite. 

StoryMakerMansouri worked on this project for a few months before he was arrested in March 2015, supposedly for committing adultery. Speculations on this led to assumptions that the government was already targeting Mansouri because of his work with Centre Ibn Rochd d'Etudes et de Communication and well-known historian and activist Maati Monjib. Mansouri was sentences to ten months in prison, during which time, he was charged along with his colleagues for another ¨offense.¨ This time related to his work on the StoryMaker project. It became clear that the Moroccan authorities framed the activities under the StoryMaker project as threatening to the country's security. During this time, crackdowns on all independent media and human rights organizations increased forcing many to close their doors and stop operations. In some cases forcing individuals to leave the country.

“After my arrest I was interrogated about StoryMaker and the objective of the project. I told them the truth, but they acted like they did not believe me. But all of that is just a pretext, they know I am innocent. They just did not want to release someone who is supposedly a threat to national security, a charge that is used as a justification for the illegitimate crackdown on freedom of expression.”

Hicham currently lives in exile after serving ten months in prison. The case is still open and on June 29th these five journalists are facing new legal action when their case goes to trial again after earlier court sessions during which the case was postponed twice. 

Citizen journalism

Mansouri plays a very important role as an advocate for human rights in Morocco. Along with his work for a regional newspaper called Machahid, Hicham Mansouri coordinated professional journalism training sessions for the Centre Ibn Rochd d’Etudes et de Communication and has been an exceptional coordinator for StoryMaker training sessions. As such, he is responsible for organizing the workshops, selecting the participants and for coaching people in making good videos with StoryMaker.

One of those videos was made by a citizen journalist, who filmed a group of students from Fes, who were promised by the political party Istiqlal, 100 dirhams a day plus food as part of their participation in a political protest on the 1st of May. “In reality they didn't receive anything and they were stuck in Rabat without any food or money”, Mansouri says. "The images support earlier accusations against Istiqlal to exploit youngsters for political campaigning. After the release of the video the Istiqlal party claimed that this video was fabricated and that people were earning money by broadcasting this video.

Another example is a story called “Your bins are our meals”, by another journalist, who showed great creativity with his video. He captured moments in which homeless people eat garbage from the dustbin. The story launches a humanitarian call to end this humiliating phenomenon and fight hunger in society.”

Why do you believe in StoryMaker as a journalism tool?

"It’s a small tool, that is easy to use. I think smartphones will have a much bigger role in the media landscape. StoryMaker makes it possible for truly motivated people to tell their own stories. People who live in places where they don’t have rights, or in a village that doesn’t have water. If StoryMaker will be accessible to more people, it will serve those people who want to advocate for human rights."

Are you still motivated to be a journalist after this time in prison?

"Even more so than before. Although the first month after I came out of prison I was just resting. Life in prison was hard. Of course it’s hard to have no freedom, but it was really terrible to share one cell with 41 people and only 24 beds. But I found a way to deal with it, I had a couple of pencils and I could write about everything that happened in there. It was interesting to come into contact with criminals, to learn more about how they think, how they work, how they committed their crimes and why they did it. All of this is very different from what we expect. Much more complex. I am writing about that.”

Why are the authorities so controlling about StoryMaker?

"There are several successful stories and maybe they are afraid of how it will flourish in the future. I don’t see that one StoryMaker video has a huge impact in itself, but they are afraid that many small fires will cause one big fire. Today everyone has a smartphone in his pocket. Citizen journalism contributes to investigations. Investigative journalism is seen as a threat by the Moroccan authorities. Today, the best investigative journalists in Morocco, like Aboubak Jamaï, Ali Lmrabet, Ahmed Reda Benchemsi and - recently - Ali Anouzla, are in exile. They cannot work in Morocco. They were all victims of unfair trials or imprisonment."

Read more

  • On June 23 2016 Ruth Kronenburg, Director Operations of Free Press Unlimited, made a statement at the 'Roundtable on Human Rights and Press Freedom in Morocco' at the Assemblee Nationale, Paris. 
  • Read about the seven journalists who are on trial.