Reporters Without Borders is providing Mohammed Attaoui legal assistance for trumped up charges received for exposing government corruption over illegal logging.
In March 2010, as Morocco hit the headlines with plans for an environmental charter and a $9 billion solar project, an environmental activist was arrested for exposing the illegal logging of protected cedar.
Just weeks after he published an exposé documenting the illegal logging as well naming those who were responsible, Mohammed Attaoui was arrested on what appear to be trumped up charges. In his exposé, Attaoui claimed that although cedar wood is a protected species in Morocco, corruption amongst the forest service and local government officials are allowing logging to go on unimpeded.
Attaoui arrested for protecting Cedars
Attaoui was arrested on the 8th of March initially on charges of possessing hashish, which were later changed to extortion. But according to an alert sent out by IFEX, The International Freedom of Expression Exchange, although Attaoui was officially charged with extorting 1,000 dirhams (approximately 90 euros) “his arrest appears to be part of a set up.”
A correspondent for the Arabic daily ‘Al-Montaf’ in Morocco, Attoaui insists that ‘mafia-style’ corruption is behind the illegal logging. Attaoui, who lives in the town of Tounfite that lies in a valley at the base of Morocco’s highest mountain, is concerned about the shrinking cedar forest and presides over a local environmental NGO dedicated to preserving and protecting cedar trees and the bighorn sheep, “L’Association Avenir pour le Cèdre et le Mouflon.”
After his arrest, Attaoui was summarily declared guilty on 22 March. He went on hunger strike on March 29 to protest his arrest and also to ask for a fair trial. At this stage, Reporters Without Borders stepped in to provide legal support and have managed to push back his sentencing over the last couple of months.
Paying the price
So far, coverage of the incident has been extremely sparse although a recent article by Brendan Borell in the Guardian may go some way to highlighting the plight of Attoaui. According to Borell, Attaoui is likely to receive his sentence sometime in September and then he faces the possibility of two years in prison.
Morocco’s forests are protected at a national level as they play an important role in regulating the water supply to the dry region as well as reducing soil erosion. A forestry expert who works in the region is also quoted in the Guardian article as saying that government foresters have been involved in illegal logging for decades in Morocco but no one has ever said anything about it until now.
Attaoui, who is reportedly the first to take a stand and challenge the damaging practice, is paying a heavy price for his environmental commitment. Reporter Without Borders encourages those who support Attaoui to write to the appropriate authorities asking for the immediate and unconditional dismissal of the case.
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