In Morocco, Press Freedom Advocates Say Sex Charges are Used to Silence Journalists

10:06 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments


A little over a year ago, 45 people in an inflatable boat died at sea trying to cross to Spain from a beach north of the city of Casablanca along Morocco’s Atlantic shore. More than half of the bodies were not recovered. But for a week following the wreckage, families sat and waited on the beaches, weeping and hoping that the waves would wash in the lifeless bodies of their loved ones.

Tragedies like these are far too common in Morocco, a country that has long been a departing point for clandestine crossings to Europe. Tighter border security and increased patrolling in the north have forced people into taking greater chances and more dangerous crossings, such as ​to the Canary Islands ​off Morocco’s Atlantic coast.

The general public has long become inured to such unfortunate events, and the media narrative has recently focused mostly on sub-Saharan migration since fewer Moroccans try to illegally cross today compared to a couple of decades ago. The lives lost could have been just one more passing story about the deaths of anonymous travelers in pursuit of better lives elsewhere, but Casablanca-based reporter Salahedine Lemaizi viewed the deaths as newsworthy.

He forced the public to acknowledge their lack of fortune, their desperation, and the reasons that motivate so many to gamble with their lives. In a series of gut-wrenching stories chronicling their lives and deaths published in the local newspaper Les Éco, Lemaizi explained what it was like to live in a small desolate village before making the decision to try to reach Europe, a decision that may lead to death.

He covered the burials, interviewed the families and neighbors, and produced reports that illustrated the efforts of a community to deal with the cruelty of such tragic deaths. His stories showed the absence of the state in large parts of the North African kingdom, where unemployment among youth is high and poverty is rampant. He showed how the community could only rely on its members due to the government’s failure to provide jobs and other aid to rural areas; with such meager resources, farmers often have little choice but to leave at any cost.

“It was hard. It was very hard,” Lemaizi says. “I wanted to chronicle their despair. I wanted to show how a state disappears during crises like this.”

These days, stories like Lemaizi’s seem increasingly impossible. Press freedom advocates have denounced a steady decline in rights over the last few years. Despite the risks, some journalists are still managing to do courageous independent work. Lemaizi remains one of the last journalists in Morocco who produces strong reporting in a climate of fear and repression.



Read the rest of the report on Harvard's Nieman Reports' website

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