Suspended sentences for publishing jokes

As mentioned earlier, Driss Ksikes, editor of the Arabic-language weekly Nichane, and one of his journalists, Sanaa Elaji were prosecuted for publishing an article describing the cathartic role of jokes - and sharing some of them with readers.

Yesterday, they were given suspended sentences of three years in prison and fines of 80,000 dirhams (7,200 euros). The court in Casablanca also ordered Nichane to be closed for two months.

Nichane’s staff also voiced relief about today’s sentence. “We are pleased that the court did not include a ban on their working as journalists in its sentence, and that the prison sentence was suspended, even if we think that three years is too much,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, the managing editor of the French-language weekly Tel Quel, which belongs to the same press group as Nichane. “The press law must be changed. The authorities announced it. I hope they do it.”

Launched last September, Nichane was selling nearly 15,000 copies a week before it was suspended.

Moroccan authorities ban magazine

Back in December, the Arabic-language weekly magazine Nichane was banned by the Moroccan authorities, on the instructions of the Prime Ministers office.

Nichanes issue #91, dated December 9th to the 15th, had a cover story on Jokes: How Moroccans Make Fun of Religion, Sex, and Politics. It included a long article, written by Sanaa Al Aji, describing the cathartic role of jokes, and sharing a few juicy ones with readers. The jokes that were deemed particularly offensive were the ones dealing with religion. There were seven in total, ranging from the subversively funny to the unfunny or downright offensive, but these are jokes that readers could just as easily have heard at work, at school, at home or at the café, and therefore theyre nothing new.

However, the appearance of the jokes in print was enough to prompt the Party of Justice and Developments religious right - among others - to start a campaign against both the magazine and the journalists - who have already been accused of being apostates - culminating in the ban on 20th December.

A lawsuit has been filed against Driss Ksikes, the magazines director, and Sanaa Al Aji, the writer, for insult to the Islamic religion and publication and distribution of writings that are contrary to the morals and mores of the country. The trial is set for 8 January 2007, and they risk prison terms of 3 to 5 years.

The magazine now has a petition of solidarity on their website.