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06RABAT2337 2006-12-26 17:18:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Rabat
Cable title:  

MOROCCAN JUSTICE MINISTER ON PRESS AND POLLING

Tags:   PGOV PHUM PTER EFIN MO 
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1. (C) During a December 22 meeting with Moroccan Justice
Minister Mohammed Bouzouba, the Ambassador urged that pending
amendments to the press code encourage journalistic
responsibility without impinging on freedom of expression.
The Ambassador also expressed concern that a proposed law
regulating polling not stifle public opinion research, and
encouraged Morocco to complete work on an enhanced terror
finance law as quickly as possible. On Western Sahara, the
Ambassador underlined the need for meaningful consultation on
the pending autonomy plan and highlighted USG attention to
human rights issues in the territory. The Justice Minister
predicted that a new press law would not be completed until
the second session of parliament begins in April, downplayed
any negative implications of the proposed polling law, and
affirmed the passage of the terror finance bill was imminent.
The Minister said Morocco was determined to settle amicably
and permanently the Western Sahara problem, so that the
country could focus on development and pursue economic
integration with Arab Maghreb states, particularly Algeria.
The Minister also offered details on Moroccan efforts to
deradicalize Islamist prisoners. End summary.



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Press Code


--------------------------





2. (C) In a cordial December 22 meeting, the Ambassador told
Moroccan Justice Minister Mohamed Bouzouba that the U.S.
hopes revisions to the press code currently under debate will
not limit freedom of expression in the domestic media. In
response, Bouzouba lamented irresponsibility and
sensationalism in the Moroccan media, which too often
distorted reality in its coverage of issues. "They will say
and write anything at all," he complained. The Ambassador
agreed that the Moroccan media would benefit from greater
adherence to professional standards and noted recent
USG-funded training efforts for Moroccan journalists. The
Minister noted that the GOM, too, was engaged in efforts to
improve through training the standards of Moroccan
journalists but implied that he remained unsatisfied with the
quality of the domestic media. (Comment: See Rabat 2315 for
a current case in point about growing GOM impatience with the
media. End comment.) Asked about the timing of the press
bill (which has been stalled for approximately one year) the
Minister predicted that it would not be presented to
parliament until the start of the second legislative session
in April.



--------------------------


Polling Law


--------------------------





3. (C) The Ambassador also raised U.S. concerns that a new
law designed to regulate (for the first time) polling in
Morocco not stifle the field of public opinion research.
There are no U.S. laws regulating polling, he noted to the
Minister. Bouzouba was surprised by this observation,
responding that "all the countries in Western Europe" have
such laws. In any case, he continued, the GOM's intent is to
regulate the process, not the content, of polls conducted in
Morocco, to ensure such activity is consistent with public
order. The Ambassador noted that France's 1985 law
(reportedly the model followed by drafters of the Moroccan
bill) only regulates polls related to elections and
amendments to laws. The Minister responded that Morocco's
law, also, would mainly be applied to impose order on the
conduct of particularly sensitive political issues.
(Comment: In fact, a copy of the draft polling law obtained
by the Embassy contains language open to broad interpretation
by those applying it and explicitly prohibits polling on
questions of religion, "territorial integrity" (Western
Sahara), and the monarchy - see Rabat 2286 for details. End
comment.)



--------------------------


Western Sahara


--------------------------





4. (C) Guided by points outlined reftel, the Ambassador
underlined the U.S. view that meaningful consultation with
the Sahrawi people would be a critical element of any
successful autonomy plan for the Western Sahara. The

RABAT 00002337 002 OF 002


Ambassador also expressed concern about reports of beatings
administered by police in Layoune against activists
demonstrating to mark Human Rights Day (December 10). The
Minister affirmed that Morocco's determination to achieve a
durable and just settlement to the issue was genuine and "not
a propaganda exercise."



5. (C) Consultation both with Sahrawis and with friendly
countries like the U.S. has been a central part of the GOM's
strategy, he added. Bouzouba characterized the effort to
solve the Western Sahara problem as a first step toward
improving relations with Algeria and moving forward on the
process of regional integration and economic development that
would be of benefit to all, he asserted. Citing significant
regional economic integration efforts in North America and
the E.U., the Minister opined that it was high time that
North Africa catch up with this trend.



6. (C) On problems between police and demonstrators in
Layoune, Bouzouba insisted that peaceful demonstrations are
permitted in the territory - only when stones and bottles
begin to fly do police intervene to maintain order. Sahrawi
activists are allowed to express their views peacefully, the
Minister maintained, pointing to the activities of activist
Aminatou Haidar, who recently traveled to Europe and the U.S.
on a "pro-Polisario" mission, but was allowed to return
without incident to Layoune, where she remains free.



--------------------------


Terror Finance


--------------------------





7. (C) The Ambassador asked the Minister for an update on
money laundering legislation introduced to the Moroccan
parliament in November. The Minister offered an upbeat
assessment, asserting that the bill enjoys broad support
among various political parties and predicted that the
legislation would pass parliament by late January, 2007. The
law, he stated, will give Moroccan officials more tools to
seize ill-gotten proceeds from any criminal source or
terrorist purpose. When passed, the law will be in full
compliance with international standards and conventions, he
affirmed.



--------------------------


Deradicalization


--------------------------





8. (C) The Ambassador asked the Minister about Moroccan
efforts to deradicalize prisoners detained for extremist
Islamist activities. The Minister confirmed that the GOM,
under the MOJ's leadership, was pursuing systematic efforts
to counter the extremist attitudes of Islamist prisoners and
instead convince them of a moderate and tolerant vision of
Islam. Morocco's efforts include the use of a closed circuit
TV network (managed by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs) which
broadcasts moderate sermons and religious lectures into
prisons (as well as more than 2000 mosques across the
country). The GOM also arranges for Ulema (Islamic scholars)
to visit prisoners and convince them of the peaceful,
moderate, and tolerant nature of Islam. "These prisoners,
too, are victims of extremist ideology, we must help them,"
the Minister stated, noting that 300 prisoners had recently
benefited from a royal amnesty and adding that sincere
recantation of extremist ideology is a major consideration
for amnesty candidates. The Ambassador welcomed the GOM's
efforts in this regard and hoped we could learn more about
deradicalization efforts in the future.


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