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Death Penalty Information

Monday, December 03, 2007

Morocco: Media blamed for apathy on the death penalty
Conformist Media Blamed for Public Apathy

Lack of media interest in reporting on death penalty issues is responsible
for widespread public indifference to whether or not Morocco eventually
abolishes capital punishment, according to analysts and activists here.
"The Moroccan media has not yet made abolition part of its agenda," Driss
Ould Kabla, editor-in-chief of the Al-Michal weekly, told IPS.
Despite its 15-year-long unofficial moratorium, when the time came to vote
on the recent U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide
moratorium on executions and eventual end to the death penalty, Morocco
sided with the rest of the Arab world and joined the pro-capital
punishment camp.
Morocco was one of the 52 countries -- many of them Arab -- which voted
against the moratorium resolution on Nov. 15. Moroccan diplomats did not
even take to the floor during the two days of debate in the General
Assembly's human rights committee -- unlike Egyptian and Syrian diplomats
who expressed strong criticism.
The Moroccan media largely ignored the country's stand on the U.N. General
Assembly resolution.
Al-Michal is the only Moroccan newspaper that regularly reports on death
penalty-related issues.
The near-total media blackout on death penalty issues is largely due to
the failure of the press to jettison its antiquated conformist mentality
-- not because of official censorship, Kabla said.
"We have a long history of support for the death penalty from all
quarters, political, social and religious," Kabla explained.
Expressing dismay at the absence of media interest in this event, Kabla
said that the press did find its voice when there were even more
controversial issues to report. "The Moroccan independent press has been
showing enough daring on other issues," he stressed.
This sensitive reporting involved recent coverage of the alleged
extra-judicial killings during the rule of King Hassan II who died in
1999. Some human rights activists have alleged the killings could number
in the hundreds.
Kabla's own investigations into some of these killings -- particularly
those alleged to have been carried out at a secret service villa in Rabat,
the Moroccan capital -- were published in his own weekly and re-published
on many websites in Arabic.
Kabla said that NGOs shared some of the blame for public apathy towards
death penalty abolition: "Abolitionist NGOs are not communicating widely
Ahmed Kouza, an Amnesty International activist, agreed that the Moroccan
press was tame in its reporting on the death penalty. Press fail to
appreciate the relationship between abolishing capital punishment and
furthering democratic values, he suggested.
But otherwise the Moroccan media was playing a "crucial role in the
democratic changes taking place in the country", Kouza told IPS.
"Abolition is an integral part of this on-going 'democratic transition' in
the country", he argued.
The 'Democratic Transition' was launched in Morocco in 1998 when King
Hassan II named opposition leader Abderrahmane Youssoufi as prime
Hassan II ruled from 1961 to 1999. His son, King Mohamed VI, who acceded
to throne in July 1999, continued the democratic reforms. He also launched
a reconciliation process with victims of human rights violations under his
father by setting up the Equity and Reconciliation Board (IER).
The IER -- in its final report submitted to King Mohamed VI in 2005 --
recommended the abolition of the death penalty as part of this
reconciliation process.
In 2006, Bouchra Khiari of the Democratic Forces Front, seized the
initiative by introducing a bill in parliament to abolish capital
punishment. "There was a thoroughgoing debate at this time between the
abolitionists and advocates of the death penalty," Kabla said. But even
this lively debate was not widely reported in the media "because the
abolitionist movement is not yet influential enough," he explained.
Kouza believes that it is only a matter of time before the Moroccan press
will take up reporting the death penalty issue. "The political and social
engagement is still missing," Kouza said. "But journalism is certainly
becoming more professional."
Independent media outlets are flourishing. Since the 'Democratic
Transition', the media landscape has seen the addition of some 400 private
newspapers. The state broadcasting monopoly has been broken up. There are
now 11 independent radio stations -- although television is still
Morocco's last execution was in 1993, but death sentences continue to be
handed down for murder. Human rights activists believe there are more than
150 currently on death row in the country.
(source: IPS News)
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