International PEN protests the two-year prison sentence handed to journalist and environmental activist Mohammed Attaoui in the Atlas region on March 22, 2010. Although charged with extortion, it is feared that Attaoui has been targeted for his critical writings on environmental matters, in particular a recent exposé of cedar wood trafficking in the Medelt region. He is currently on hunger strike in prison. PEN is calling for Attaoui’s immediate and unconditional release.

Background Information

The following alert was issued by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on April 7, 2010:

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, southeast of Rabat. He was officially charged with extorting 1,000 dirhams (approx. 90 euros), though his arrest appears to be part of a set up.

Attaoui began a hunger strike on March 29 to protest the sentence and demand a fair trial. He is also calling for an investigation into what he calls his "kidnapping" by national guard officers.

Attaoui was arrested on March 8, shortly after an article he wrote exposing a "cedar mafia" was published in the Arabic-language daily "Al-Monataf" on February 16. A press release issued by his organization on January 16 also denounced the illegal trafficking of the wood. 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," Attaoui told RSF from his prison in Midelt.

In his recent articles, the journalist and activist describes in great detail the illegal trafficking of the heritage wood by community leaders in the Midelt region, aided by national forest rangers. Cedar wood is a protected species in Morocco.

Attaoui maintains he was set up by a forestry ministry official who tipped him off to the trafficking. "I mentioned to him that I was in a difficult financial situation and that I did not know if I would be able to afford to travel to Rabat or Meknès for an oral exam I needed to take as part of a promotion I was applying for within the municipality. He gave me 1,000 dirhams to pay for the ticket. Two hours later, national guard officers came to arrest me."

Attaoui says he intends to appeal his conviction. He is scheduled to be transferred to Meknès prison on either the April 1st or 5th. He will be informed of the date of his appeal once he is transferred.

Write A Letter

  • In French if possible
  • Protesting the two-year prison sentence handed to journalist and environmental activist Mohammed Attaoui in the Atlas region on March 22, 2010, after he wrote an exposé on cedar wood trafficking in the Medelt region;
  • Pointing out that Attaoui’s conviction appears to be in violation of his right to freedom of expression, protected under international human rights treaties to which Morocco is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights;
  • Calling for Attaoui’s immediate and unconditional release.

Send Your Letter To

Prime Minister
Abbas El Fassi
Département du Premier Ministre
Palais Royal
Touarga
Rabat, Morocco
Fax : +212 5377 69995
Email: courier@pm.gov.ma
Salutation: Your Excellency

Minister of Justice
His Excellency Abdelwahed Radi
Ministry of Justice
Place Mamounia
Rabat, Morocco
Fax: +212 537 72 37 10, +212 537 73 07 72, or +212 537 73 47 25
Salutation: Your Excellency

Please also send copies of your appeals to the diplomatic representatives of Morocco in your country if possible.

Please check with PEN if sending appeals after June 9, 2010: ftw [at] pen.org