A link is just a link...except when it isn’t. In one ongoing case in Morocco, the act of linking to a news article that linked to a YouTube video that was posted by a terrorist group has landed a prominent editor in jail, charged with “material assistance” to a terrorist group, “defending terrorism,” and “inciting the execution of terrorist acts.”
If it sounds Kafkaesque, that’s because it is. Arrested on September 17, Ali Anouzla, the Moroccan editor of the online-only publication Lakome, is currently being held in pre-trial detention.
“Rarely has a jailed Arab journalist prompted so many calls for his release,” wrote a columnist for Lebanon’s Daily Star. Indeed, Anouzla’s case has prompted widespread consternation even from publications like the Washington Post, where praise for the Moroccan king is common. A group of Egyptian journalists have demanded Anouzla’s freedom, while free speech and human rights organizations all over the world have also spoken up in solidarity with the journalist; a letter signed by 60 such groups (including EFF), states:
...We fear that the Moroccan authorities have not only flouted international standards regarding freedom of expression and press freedom, but have also violated the Moroccan public's right to know.
Anouzla’s case has made headlines even in Morocco, where it is rare for mainstream media to defend “enemies of the state.”
The coalition letter, signed by both Moroccan and international groups, further calls for the immediate release of Anouzla, the charges against him to be dropped, the restoration of electronic equipment to Lakome’s offices, and the end of judicial and media harassment.
Now, Lakome is being reported blocked on some ISPs in Morocco. According to journalist Aida Alami, Anouzla wrote a statement asking for the temporary suspension of the website, in which he stated that he lacks capacity to control the site's content. Alami also reports that Anouzla's lawyer asked the prosecutor to shut down the site. Because Anouzla does not own the domain (which is hosted in the US), however, it appears that the order was executed by demanding that individual ISPs block the site. While Meditel users can still access Lakome, users of incumbent ISP Maroc Telecom—which holds about 60% of market share—receive a vague error message when trying to access the site. There has been no formal court decision regarding the block.
Though Morocco has a history of prosecuting journalists, the country’s authorities also seem susceptible to outside pressure: Prior to 2011, nearly every blogger arrested in the country was eventually granted a royal pardon, usually within a few months. Allies around the world should continue to demand that Ali Anouzla be released immediately and the charges against him dropped.