Morocco reporter on hunger strike should return home: Rabat

Ali Lmrabet has been on hunger strike outside the U.N.’s Geneva offices since June 24, when his Moroccan passport expired

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A Moroccan journalist on hunger strike in Geneva, who was previously jailed for insulting the Moroccan king and is now being denied a passport, was told Sunday to return home to plead his case.

“Morocco is a state of law,” said Mohamed Aujjar, Morocco’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, insisting the journalist had “every right to contest the administrative decision” not to provide him with a certificate needed to renew his passport.

“But you don’t get your papers by staging a hunger strike,” he told AFP.

Ali Lmrabet has been on hunger strike outside the U.N.’s Geneva offices since June 24, when his Moroccan passport expired after months of vain attempts to renew it.

The journalist, who moved indoors Sunday amid a searing heatwave, told AFP he had lost seven kilos (15.4 pounds) since he stopped eating.

Lmrabet maintains Morocco’s refusal to renew his passport aims to block him from moving ahead with his plans to relaunch two satirical publications, after a 10-year-ban on him practicing journalism was lifted in April.

He says he had requested the residence certificate needed to renew his passport on April 20, and had received the document only to see it withdrawn the next day.

The authorities said Lmrabet, whose wife and children live in Spain, did not live at his father’s address in the northern city of Tetouan as claimed.

Aujjar said that if Lmrabet disagreed with the administrative decision he could challenge it, but not in Geneva.

Lmrabet flatly rejected Aujjar’s suggestion he return to Morocco and pursue the case in court, insisting he would then be stuck in the country with no papers and no possibility to work or leave.

“No one trusts the judicial system in Morocco,” he said.

Lmrabet was the editor of two satirical publications -- one in French and one in Arabic -- that were banned in 2003 for insulting the king.

He was sentenced to three years behind bars, but was released on early 2004 after receiving a royal pardon.

But he ran into trouble a year later over comments about the ultra-sensitive Western Sahara dispute between Morocco and the Algerian-backed Polisario Front, and was barred from practicing journalism for 10 years.

The journalist also holds French citizenship, but said he cannot under Moroccan law use his French passport, which has in any case also expired, to live and work in Morocco.

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