Statement by Ruth Kronenburg, Director Operations of Free Press Unlimited, at the 'Roundtable on Human Rights and Press Freedom in Morocco' at the Assemblee Nationale, Paris.
Thank you for this occasion to make a statement about our work in Morocco and the case discussed today.
Free Press Unlimited's mission is to ensure that impartial news and information are available to people across the globe, so they are equipped to make informed choices and to use information for their development. As part of the activities to contribute to this goal, we worked with the accused in this case in Morocco.
Free Press Unlimited has been active in Morocco since 2006. We supported the development of a professional media environment, through projects aimed at strengthening independent media and supporting investigative, quality reporting in Morocco. We supported the celebrations of World Press Freedom Day several years in a row in Morocco, in which in 2013 the Moroccan Minister of Communication and other governmental representatives also participated.
The latest project implemented by Free Press Unlimited in Morocco is called 'StoryMaker', a large-scale training project teaching journalists how to create professional stories using a mobile phone application called StoryMaker. The project has the objective to enhance the skills of journalists and improve multimedia journalism, professionalism and storytelling with mobile phones. The project was designed as a response to the rise of smartphones being used to share stories, photos and videos and to stay connected to the world.
With the application, journalists, activists and citizens can safely produce and share better stories on their phones.
The project attracted attention of the Moroccan authorities for the first time in December of 2014 when a scheduled training was cancelled just days before upon request by officials. Following this our local partner Centre Ibn Rochd d'Etudes et de Communication was forced to stop its operations. Then in June 2015 the authorities unexpectedly turned up at our journalism training in Marrakesh and confiscated the mobile phones that were purchased for the training participants. Subsequently the harassment of partners, trainers and trainees started, including of our partner at the time of the training AMEJ, and interrogation without clear accusations followed. We protested against the confiscation of the phones, but until today they were not returned. As a result of these events we decided to terminate our activities Morocco.
In order to resume our activities on short notice, we reached out to the Moroccan authorities and requested a meeting to explain our work. We never received a response. After the charges were brought, we have urged them to drop all charges and to end the harassment of these human rights activists and journalists. Morocco as a state party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights has the obligation to respect article 19 which sets forth the right to freedom of opinion and expression and is a right that should therefore be respected and protected by Morocco. Furthermore, the Constitution of Morocco stipulates that: “Freedom of the press shall be guaranteed and may not be restricted by any form of prior censorship. Every person shall have the right to express and freely disseminate information, ideas and opinions, subject only to the limits specifically laid down by law.” Unfortunately our efforts, and those of numerous international organisations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Article 19 and Privacy International, have been without effect, and as we all know today the trial still continues.
Furthermore, contrary to what the Moroccan authorities try to have us believe by initiatives such as their initiative to table an UNESCO resolution on the Right to Information last year, the human rights situation in Morocco has deteriorated and they have stepped up their clampdown on human rights activists. This has effectively silenced a lot of the criticism voiced by civil society in Morocco. The same goes for the accused in this case, whose lives have been interrupted by this case for more than 8 months now. Whose reputations have been seriously damaged by the accusations and who even felt so threatened that they chose to flee their own country. The reality for them is that they could be sentenced to five years imprisonment for just exercising their human rights. We see a clear cause for action. We strongly believe freedom of expression should not be on trial.
We would therefore like to take this opportunity to urge the French Members of Parliament present here today to use their political leverage and bilateral relations with Morocco to exert pressure in this case and point out to Morocco that it has to abide by its international obligations to respect the right to freedom of expression. Instead of posing a threat against states, independent media can contribute to democracy and development within societies by highlighting under-reported issues, ensuring accountability and giving marginalized groups a voice. That is exactly what these journalists strive to do, to build and maintain a democratic and inclusive society.
In this respect we would like to recall that based on both the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders and the Guidelines on Freedom of Expression France as member state of the EU has several obligations to provide support in this case. The EU and its member states committed to provide visible recognition for human rights defenders and their work, and to attend their trials as observers. Openly displayed solidarity of the EU with human rights defenders in many cases contributes to the safety of human rights defenders at risk, as do EU interventions and declarations on behalf of individuals.
Also the EU made the commitment to condemn any restriction on freedom of expression and censorship in violation of international human rights law. In addition, the EU committed to undertake demarches or to issue public statements in response to serious violations or restrictions on the right to freedom of opinion and expression. Now is the time to turn these commitments into actions.