“Fake news” draft bill sparks strong rejection in Morocco

Activists, politicians reject draft bill as an attack on the freedom of expression that could plunge Morocco into the abyss.

CASABLANCA - The “Fake news” draft bill punishing calls to boycott products on social media has drawn heavy criticism among Moroccans who said it set a “dangerous precedent” for the freedom of expression.

The draft bill 22.20, which was unveiled by social media mogul Mustapha Swinga, is in the process of being finalised before being sent to the House of Representatives.

Any call to boycott products on social media is punishable by 6 months to a year in prison and a fine ranging from $500 to $5.000, According to the bill’s initial text.

It provides for the same penalty for any appeal that incites customers to withdraw their funds from banks.

Another article punishes the fact of spreading false information likely to cast doubt on the quality and safety of products.

The draft bill came two years after an unprecedented campaign was launched on social media against leading brands Sidi Ali mineral water (owned by Eaux Minerales d’Oulmes), Afriquia petrol stations (owned by Akwa Group) and Centrale Laitiere milk (owned by Centrale Danone).

Afriquia is owned by billionaire and agriculture and fisheries minister Aziz Akhannouch.

The boycott campaign’s aim was to protest “exorbitant” prices, which boycott campaigners said were much higher than the companies charge to European customers.

Activists and politicians denounced the draft bill, which was adopted by the government council as an attack on the freedom of expression that could plunge the country into the abyss.

The leading opposition party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) rejected the bill, which it considers restrictive to freedom of opinion and expression, as rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

“The PAM refuses anything that would harm the gains and freedoms in the field of human rights, which the country has obtained thanks to decades of sacrifices by honourable people,” said the party leader Abdellatif Ouahbi in a statement released April 27.

Nizar Baraka, Secretary General of the Istiqlal Party (PI) condemned the draft bill as a serious violation of freedom of opinion and expression and a frank regression of the progress made by Morocco in the field of public freedoms and human rights.  

A government source said that a technical commission was revising the text whose final version will be consensual before sending it to parliament.

But whistle-blower Swinga, insisted that the government’s statement on March 19 clearly stated that the draft bill had been approved.

“How can something be approved while it is being studied? Even the phrasing of sentences in the statement suggests that things were concluded within the government,” wrote Swinga on Facebook.

Omar Cherkaoui, professor at the Mohammedia University of law, economics and social studies, launched a petition to revise the draft bill which he said was far from participatory constitutional values.

“We are not before a law to regulate social media websites. We are rather before the criminal law of social networks and before their criminalization with legal spices that speak of respecting the constitution,” said Cherkaoui.

“This bill is an absolute massacre of human rights. It includes 25 articles, including 22 articles which provide for administrative sanctions, imprisonment and financial fines,” he added.