Seven journalists and activists have gone on trial in Morocco for running a foreign-funded journalism training course.
Charity Amnesty International said Moroccan authorities pressed charges against five of the journalists for “threatening the internal security of the state” through “propaganda” that has the potential to threaten “the loyalty that citizens owe to the State and institutions of the Moroccan people”.
The charges fall under Article 206 of the Penal Code, official court papers report.
The two other defendants, Maria Moukrim and Rachid Tarik, are being tried for “receiving foreign funding without notifying the General Secretariat of the government”.
If found guilty, each of the defendants could face up to five years in prison.
Those charged had been using the phone app StoryMaker which allows citizen journalists to create and publish anonymous content. The app was developed by Free Press Unlimited (FPU) alongside the Guardian Project and Small World News.
Ruth Kronenburg, director of operations at FPU, an international organisation that supports journalists reporting in war zones, called on French Members of Parliament to “use their political leverage and bilateral relations with Morocco” to urge Moroccan authorities to drop charges against the journalists.
She added: “Instead of posing a threat against states, independent media can contribute to democracy and development within societies by highlighting under-reported issues, ensuring accountability and giving marginalized groups a voice.
“That is exactly what these journalists strive to do, to build and maintain a democratic and inclusive society.”
FPU have reported that Moroccan authorities did not respond to its request to meet with them to explain the organisation’s work and the StoryMaker app.
Amnesty International is also placing pressure on the Moroccan government. Magdalena Mughrabi, the charity’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director, said: “The trial of these journalists is a worrying test case for press freedom in Morocco.
“The accusations that journalists and citizens reporting freely in their country are compromising state security, and the risk that they may be imprisoned, are deeply alarming.”
The seven defendants are not the first journalists and activists to have been detained by the Moroccan authorities.
According to Reporters Without Borders, on 30 June 2014, Mahmoud Lhaisan, reporter for Rasd TV, was arrested for covering police abuse by Sahrawi demonstrators following Algeria’s World Cup match.
In August 2015, Moroccan officials ordered the website Badil, an independent news outlet, to cease operation for three months under criminal defamation charges. Authorities claimed that the website’s story on a car bombing in the city was false.