May 4, 2010

Abbas El Fassi
Prime Minister
Département du Premier Ministre
Palais Royal
Rabat, Morocco
Fax: +212 5377 69995

Abdelwahed Radi
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Place Mamounia, Rabat
Fax: +212 537 72 37 10 /+212 537 73 07 72

Your Excellencies,

On behalf of the 3,400 members of PEN American Center, an international organization of writers dedicated to protecting freedom of expression wherever it is threatened, we are writing to express our concern regarding the two-year prison sentence handed to journalist and environmental activist Mohammed Attaoui.

According to our information, Mohammed Attaoui, a correspondent for the Arabic daily Al-Monataf, president of a local environmental NGO, and an employee with the rural municipality of Tounfite, was sentenced on March 22, 2010, to two years in prison by a court in Midelt, in the eastern Atlas region. He was officially charged with extorting 1,000 dirhams, though it is believed that his arrest is based on fabricated charges. Attaoui began a hunger strike on March 29 to protest the sentence and demands a fair trial. He intends to appeal his conviction.

Attaoui was arrested on March 8, 2010, shortly after an article he wrote exposing a “cedar mafia” was published in Al-Monataf on February 16. His organization also issued a press release on January 16 denouncing the illegal trafficking of the cedar wood, which is a protected species in Morocco. The organization has launched a civil suit against the leaders of the groups named by Attaoui in his exposés.

Attaoui’s organization, the Association for the Preservation of Cedar and Bighorn Sheep, was founded in 2006. The organization holds seminars and issues press releases “to expose and educate the public about the plundering of our rich cedar resources.” In his recent articles, the journalist and activist meticulously describes the illegal trafficking of the heritage wood by community leaders in the Midelt region, aided by national forest rangers.

PEN American Center is seriously concerned that Mohammed Attaoui has been imprisoned for exercising his legitimate right of freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and by the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, both of which Morocco has signed. We therefore call for his immediate and unconditional release.

Thank you for your consideration of this urgent matter.

Hannah Pakula                             
Chair, Freedom to Write Committee                    

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

CC: H.E. Aziz Mekouar
Ambassador Extraordinary & Plenipotentiary
Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco
1601 21st St NW
Washington, DC 20009
Fax: (202) 265-0161

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