Journalists at Moroccan Magazine Fined for Insulting Islam

The editor and a journalist at a Moroccan news weekly that published jokes relating to Islam were convicted Monday of insulting the religion, court officials said.

The court gave three-year suspended sentences to Driss Ksikes, editor of Nichane, and to journalist Sanaa al-Aji, court officials said.

Both were barred from any journalistic activity for two months and the independent Arab-language magazine was suspended for two months. They were fined $9,280 each.

The sentence was milder than the three to five years in prison that prosecutors had requested.

The journalists would not comment as they left the courthouse. Lawyer Taoufik Benyoub said they would appeal the verdict.

But Ksikes last week told The Associated Press that the 10-page article was meant as a thoughtful examination of Moroccan popular humor.

"We just wanted to explain what Moroccans laugh about," Ksikes said.

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Prime Minister Driss Jettou ordered Nichane banned on Dec. 20 in response to complaints posted on an Islamist Web site, Khorafa.org, and complaints from the Kuwaiti government about the article. Ksikes and al-Aji were swiftly tried for insulting Islam, a crime in Morocco.

Morocco's National Press Union condemned the trial.

The trial and a government-supported libel suit against another magazine, Le Journal Hebdomadaire, have led to concerns that the North African kingdom may be backsliding on moves in recent years to relax long-standing restrictions on the media.

Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders has said that the government, by punishing Nichane, was seeking to burnish its Islamic credentials before parliamentary elections this year that the Islamist opposition Justice and Development Party is expected to win.