Morocco summons media workers after publisher held

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Moroccan police on Saturday detained a journalist and summoned for questioning two employees from an independent media group, a day after its outspoken publisher was detained, his newspaper said. Prominent publisher and journalist Taoufiq Bouachrine, known for editorials critical of authorities in the North African country, was arrested Friday during a raid by 20 plain clothed policemen on the Akhbar al-Yaoum daily in Casablanca.

The authorities have not given the reason for his detention. Bouachrine, 49, has faced repeated legal cases in the past for allegedly defaming officials. The newspaper said journalist Ibtissam Machkour, the head of women’s news site Soltana, was detained by police Saturday and two employees from Akhbar al-Yaoum were also summoned for questioning. Bouachrine’s arrest has provoked a wave of criticism, with rights activists, lawyers and legislators offering him their support.

This is not Bouachrine’s first run in with the authorities. In 2009, Bouachrine and Akhbar al-Yaoum cartoonist Khalid Gueddar were each given a four-year suspended jail sentence following two separate trials over a cartoon about a wedding which was deemed offensive to Morocco’s royal family. The pair were also ordered to pay heavy fines and damages, while the paper was shut down.

Bouachrine has also faced lawsuits from government ministers who have accused him of defamation. And in June 2010, Bouachrine was sentenced to six months for fraud relating to a property deal. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Morocco 133rd out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index last year.

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