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Crusading Moroccan magazine closed

End of Le Journal is sign that Morocco's relatively free press is under siege.

As judicial authorities prepared to seize his assets 2007, Jamai moved to the United States with his wife and two children. The suit against the magazine appeared to go dormant. In 2009, Jamai returned to Morocco and resumed editing Le Journal.

“They didn’t do anything for two and a half years but then the court remembered me,” Jamai said.

In late September, Morocco’s high court upheld the $350,000 judgment against the magazine. On Jan. 25, a judge gave the final order to seize the assets of Le Journal’s holding company to pay off several hundred thousand dollars worth of back taxes, bank loans and other debts accrued in various legal battles.

Two days later, bailiffs arrived at Le Journal’s Casablanca offices, seized the desks, confiscated the computers and changed all the locks.

“According to our lawyer, it’s fastest bankruptcy process he’s ever seen in his life,” Jamai said in a telephone interview from Spain where he’s now staying with his family.

Even before the gavel slammed down, Le Journal’s days seemed to be numbered. After Jamai returned to Morocco, he said the government stepped up its campaign to convince advertisers to boycott the magazine. In April, he said several real estate companies who’d been the publication’s advertising lifeline suddenly stopped buying ads.

“April was the turning point,” he said. “After that it became almost mission impossible for us.”

Morocco’s communications minister, Khalid Naciri, said the many legal actions taken against Le Journal had nothing to do with press suppression but, rather, were simply a natural response to slander and sub-standard reporting.

As for Jamai’s account of Le Journal’s demise, “It’s a grotesque lie,” Naciri said. “This is a purely commercial affair.”

“He didn’t pay his taxes, he didn’t pay his debts, and he believed he was above the law,” he added. “Morocco is a county in the process of building a democracy and newspapers are free to publish what they choose.”

Press advocacy groups aren’t convinced. The Committee to Protect Journalists has extensively criticized Morocco for the rising number of jail sentences and crippling fines government prosecutors have handed to reporters here in the last year.

Last month, Dayem, the Committee’s Middle East and North Africa director, visited Casablanca, intending to hold a press conference chiding Moroccan authorities on Le Journal’s shutdown and general backsliding on press freedom. Dayem said he spent much of Feb. 19, the event’s scheduled date, meeting Moroccan officials who insisted free speech is alive and well here.

Yet, at the last minute, he said authorities refused him permission to hold a press conference. (The Communication Ministry disputes this, saying the group simply failed to obtain the necessary permits, but was free to meet privately with journalists.)

On the afternoon of the canceled event, a marked police car sat outside the intended venue, the Oum Palace Hotel in central Casablanca. In the hotel lobby, Dayem spoke briefly with a few

“What happened here,” he said, “is precisely what were told at 10 a.m. today never happens in Morocco.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the date reference to Mohamed Abdel Dayem's visit to Casablanca.