Character assassination

Ali Amar was co-founder of the independent Moroccan weekly, Le Journal Hebdomadaire, which was forced to close last January. He is also author of Mohammed VI: Le grand malentendu, a book critical of the king which was published last year (extracts here, in French). 

Zineb El Rhazoui is a freelance journalist and founder of theAlternative Movement for Individual Freedoms (Mali). This is the group that last September attempted to defy Article 222 of the Moroccan penal code which criminalises eating in public during Ramadan. She is currently banned from leaving the country as a result of the Ramadan protest.

Ali Amar had been away from Morocco for a while, apparently waiting for the fuss over his book to die down, but recently he returned. 

At 5.45 last Friday morning a large number of police, supervised by two very senior officers, broke down the door of Rhazoui's apartment in Casablanca and found her inside with Ali Amar.

They asked quesstions about the nature of their relationship then ordered the couple - who were reportedly fully clothed - to sit on a bed to be photographed together. They also photographed the remains of a dinner and two empty wine bottles:

They then dismantled the computers and computer peripherals of the two journalists who had just finished a session of work involved in writing articles for the international press. Officers were flipping their documentation work, searched their bags, papers and personal effects. One of the officers ordered an officer to examine the library of Zineb El Rhazoui to determine whether it’s porn.

The two journalists were then taken away for interrogation.

The explanation given by police for their dawn raid is that they were investigating the reported theft of a computer. This seems to arise out of a dispute between Ali Amar and a former partner over the ownership of a laptop. 

Exactly what role the bed and the wine and the suspected pornography played in the "theft" of the laptop, or why the police felt a need to investigate in this fashion, remains unclear. But it will no doubt provide ammunition for religious elements in Morocco to wage a moral crusade against two of the regime's critics.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 9 June 2010. Comment

UPDATE June 10: Human Rights Watch issued a statement on the case.