Jan 9, 2007

Moroccan trial ends

By Richard Hamilton
BBC News, Casablanca

A Moroccan magazine editor accused of defaming Islam and damaging morality by printing articles about religious jokes has defended his position in court.
Nichane magazine's Driss Ksikes, who is on trial in Casablanca with magazine journalist Sanaa al-Aji, denied the articles were intended be offensive. The prosecutor urged sentences of three to five years, saying journalists must balance liberties and responsibilities. The judges have retired and a verdict is expected later this month.
Following the publication of the articles, Moroccan authorities closed the magazine down and withdrew copies of it from newspaper stands. The article that has caused such an outcry looked at popular jokes on religion, sex and politics.
Mr Ksikes told the court he believed Morocco was a funny society. To ask the magazine why it told the jokes would be like asking the French playwright Moliere why he made people laugh, Mr Ksikes said. Ms Aji added that the jokes shed light on society and were in common usage, but they did not reflect her own beliefs.
The journalists, who have received death threats, said they were not making fun of religion.
They have, however, issued a public apology.
They are supported by international organisations such as Reporters Without Frontiers, which says this is a serious blow for press freedom. But the government does not see it that way, and says that attacking religion is one of the most serious offences a journalist can commit. Since the death of the previous king, Morocco has been undergoing a period of modernisation and media reform has been part of that process. However, this case may turn back the clock to the days when Moroccans had to be very careful about what they said.

* * * * *

Always the impression among people I speak to is that Morocco escapes the tumult, that Morocco hidden on the fringes, far from the formal madness, is safe from the Islamic fascists, not to mention the old regime of Hassan II. But now a trial begins today in which editors of a new weekly magazine, Nichane, are accused of runnning jokes critical of Islam. The managing editor, Driss Ksikes, is a friend and a highly likable and fearless fellow. He's also a playwright. And in recent years has drawn the ire of the government for a number of articles in TelQuel, the Time Magazine of Morocco. But if the situation has been tender it now seems to have broken out into a real wound. Clearly, the government, which is looking at an Islamic majority this year, cannot withstand the pressure of conservatives.

Meanwhile, the American press stifles a yawn and runs the emory board over its nails.

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