Morocco

Morocco

Partly Free
54
100
A Obstacles to Access 14 25
B Limits on Content 24 35
C Violations of User Rights 16 40
Last Year's Score & Status
55 100 Partly Free

Overview

Internet freedom in Morocco remained tenuous over the past year as a crackdown on online journalists who had covered protests continued, and a progovernment news websites published false information against a prominent activist. While internet access continues to increase overall, the government is believed to maintain sophisticated surveillance systems. Problematic press and antiterrorism laws place high burdens on intermediaries, and numerous social media accounts apparently exist with the sole purpose of harassing, intimidating, and threatening activists who criticize authorities.

Morocco holds regular multiparty elections for Parliament, and reforms in 2011 shifted some authority over government from the monarchy to the elected legislature. Nevertheless, King Mohammed VI maintains dominance through a combination of substantial formal powers and informal lines of influence in the state and society. Many civil liberties are constrained in practice.

Key Developments

June 1, 2018 – May 31, 2019

  • In October, a progovernment online media outlet published a false news article about prominent activist Nasser Zefzafi (see B5).

  • A Moroccan collective launched in September the #Masaktach (“I will not be silenced”) campaign, in response to the abduction, rape, and torture of a 17-year-old girl and other acts of sexual assault and violence against women (see B8).

  • A number of online journalists were sentenced to prison during the coverage period, including several who had reported on the crackdown against al-Hirak Rif (the Rif Movement) (see C3).

A Obstacles to Access

While internet access continues to increase overall, the disparity between urban and rural connectivity persists. Authorities did not impose any restrictions on connectivity over the past year, but the centralization of the internet backbone leaves room for censorship and surveillance.

A1 0-6 pts
Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections? 46

Internet access in Morocco has slowly increased in recent years, though obstacles remain in certain areas of the country. The internet penetration rate grew from 52 percent in 2010 to nearly 65 percent in 2018, according to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Meanwhile, there are 124 mobile subscriptions for every 100 inhabitants.1

Speeds have also increased. According to the 2019 Inclusive Internet Index, Morocco’s mobile internet download speeds average 13 Mbps, while mobile upload speeds average 7.5 Mbps, up 17.7 and 19 percent, respectively, from the 2018 index.2 In terms of fixed-broadband speeds, average download speed is 15.5 Mbps, while upload speeds average 2.7 Mbps, up 50.3 and 45.2 percent respectively, from the 2018 index.

The government has undertaken several programs over the years to improve the country’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector. The General Guidelines for the Further Development of the Telecommunications Sector by 2018 provides the latest framework for the development of ICTs.3 The program aims to increase fiber-optic and other high-speed connections throughout the country, reinforce the existing regulatory framework, and provide universal access. General guidance for the years 2019–22 was reportedly being drafted during the coverage period.4

In terms of ICT infrastructure, Maroc Telecom, a partially state-owned company, owns and controls a fiber-optic backbone of more than 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles). The National Railways Office (ONCF) and National Office of Electricity and Water (ONEE), have also built 2,000- and 4,000-kilometer (1,250- and 2,500-mile) fiber-optic infrastructures, respectively. The state controls both entities (see A3). Morocco’s national and international connectivity has a combined capacity exceeding 10 terabits per second.5

A2 0-3 pts
Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons? 13

Network coverage is highly uneven between urban and rural areas. According to the most recent annual report from the National Agency for the Regulation of Telecommunications (ANRT), urban dwellers are more likely to have internet access than rural inhabitants, with penetration at 67 percent versus 43 percent, respectively. Some 92 percent of Morocco’s population utilize mobile phones; of those, 73 percent are smartphone users, of which 86 percent use their smartphones to access the internet, particularly in the rural areas.1 Rural inhabitants constitute 38.7 percent of the overall population,2 and while many have access to electricity, television, and radio, most do not have access to phone lines and high-speed internet. The high rate of illiteracy, especially among rural women, is another major obstacle to internet access. Some 47.5 percent of rural Moroccans are illiterate, and 60.1 percent of those are female.3

While a divide between rural and urban areas remains, internet use remains relatively affordable.4 For a 4G+ prepaid connection speed of up to 225 Mbps, customers pay 59 Moroccan dirhams ($6) per month for 7 GB of data, and, if exceeded, can pay 20 dirhams ($2) for an additional 2 GB package.5 Internet users pay on average 3 dirhams ($0.31) for one hour of connection in cybercafés.

A3 0-6 pts
Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity? 46

Authorities did not impose any restrictions on connectivity over the past year. However, the centralization of Morocco’s internet backbone facilitates the potential control of content and surveillance. The three main telecom operators—Maroc Telecom, Orange Morocco, and INWI—have varying access to international connectivity.

A4 0-6 pts
Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers? 46

Internet service providers (ISPs), cybercafés, and mobile phone companies do not face major legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles.1 Maroc Telecom, Orange, and INWI are the main licensed ISPs and mobile carriers. Maroc Telecom is a former state company that held a monopoly over the telecom sector until 1999, when licenses were granted to Medi Telecom and INWI.2 The firm is now owned by Etisalat of the United Arab Emirates, and the Moroccan state, which maintains a 30 percent stake.3 In May 2019, the company announced that the state would sell as much as 8 percent of its shares as part of a plan to address the budget deficit.4

Medi Telecom, previously a private consortium led by Spain’s Telefónica, was rebranded and changed its name to Orange Morocco in December 2016 after the French Orange Group gained a 49 percent controlling interest of the company the previous year.5 INWI (formerly WANA, Maroc Connect) is a subsidiary of Omnium North Africa (ONA), the Moroccan industrial conglomerate owned by the royal family. Three 4G licenses were granted to the three telecom companies, and 4G utilization started in April 2015.6

A5 0-4 pts
Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner? 14

The ANRT is a government body created in 1998 to regulate and liberalize the telecommunications sector. Its board of directors is made up of government ministers, and its head is appointed by the king. The founding law of the ANRT extols the telecommunications sector as a driving force for Morocco’s social and economic development, and the agency is meant to create an efficient and transparent regulatory framework that favors competition among operators.1

While Maroc Telecom effectively controls the telephone-cable infrastructure, the ANRT is tasked with setting the prices at which the company’s rivals (such as Orange and INWI) can access those cables. Thus, the ANRT can make sure competition in the market is fair and leads to affordable services for Moroccan consumers.2 The ANRT director and administrative board are appointed by a dahir (royal decree), leaving the agency open to politicization. However, international organizations such as the World Bank and the ITU have not expressed any major criticism regarding the ANRT’s neutrality.3

The allocation of digital resources, such as domain names, is carried out in a nondiscriminatory manner. The ANRT manages the top-level country domain .ma through various private providers, some of which are affiliated with the three telecom companies. As of April 2019, there were 73,250 registered Moroccan domain names, up from 69,115 in May 2018.4

B Limits on Content

Though websites are rarely blocked outright, authorities limit online content through a variety of nuanced mechanisms. Problematic press and antiterrorism laws place high burdens on intermediaries, while activists are pressured by security officials to delete sensitive content. A progovernment online outlet published false news against a prominent activist during the coverage period. Nevertheless, digital mobilization perseveres.

B1 0-6 pts
Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content? 66

The government did not block or filter any political, social, or religious websites during the coverage period. Social media and communication services including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are available in the country, as are international blog-hosting services. Websites that discuss controversial views or minority causes—such as the disputed territory of Western Sahara, the Amazigh minority, or Islamist groups—are also accessible.

The last instance of government blocking of online content occurred in 2013, when the attorney general ordered the ANRT to block the Arabic- and French-language websites of the investigative news outlet Lakome for allegedly condoning terrorism.1 An article on the site had reported on a video attributed to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) but did not itself incite violence or promote terrorism.2 An Arabic-language version of the outlet was relaunched using the address lakome2.com.

B2 0-4 pts
Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content? 24

The government maintains control over the information landscape through a series of restrictive laws that can require the closure of outlets and the removal of online content (see B3). The government also resorts to more ad hoc, extralegal means to remove content that is deemed controversial or undesirable. For example, the news outlet Hespress, which in the past featured content that was both supportive and critical of the government, has deleted videos of street protests and interviews with opposition figures due to anticipated or actual pressure from authorities.1 Activists have also described situations where security officials told them to remove or change critical content, or face criminal charges.2

Facebook reported restricting seven items between January and June 2018 due to private complaints of defamation, and did not receive any such requests between July and December 2018.3 Google also received zero requests during the first half of the year.4

B3 0-4 pts
Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process? 24

Online content can be restricted under broad legislation. For example, the antiterrorism law, adopted in 2003,1 gives the government sweeping powers to filter and delete content that is deemed to “disrupt public order by intimidation, force, violence, fear, or terror.”2 Article 218(6) assigns legal liability to the author and anyone who in any way helps the author to disseminate information deemed as a justification for acts of terrorism, which would include site owners and ISPs. While the law was ostensibly designed to combat terrorism, authorities retain the discretion to define vague terms such as “national security” and “public order” as they please, opening the door for abuse. Many opposition news sites are hosted on servers outside the country to avoid being shut down by the authorities. Intermediaries must block or delete infringing content when made aware of it or upon receipt of a court order.3

Under the press law, the government has the right to shut down any publication “prejudicial to Islam, the monarchy, territorial integrity, or public order,” and it can seek heavy fines, or prison sentences under the penal code, for the publication of offensive content (see C2).

B4 0-4 pts
Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship? 24

Moroccans openly discuss controversial social issues and political events on social media, though online news media continue to lack diversity. Online sites tend not to host robust investigative journalism, in part because journalists working for state-friendly, traditional-media outlets tend to be paid better.1 Online news outlets also receive unofficial directives not to report on controversial issues, or not to allow certain voices to be heard. Over the course of the coverage period, for example, reports on King Mohammed VI’s rumored divorce from his wife Lalla Salma was hardly covered by Moroccan media. In contrast, speculation about their divorce circulated freely in foreign media outlets.2

Personal attacks and derogatory comments received by activists and opinion makers online—often in response to their criticism of government policies—also contribute to self-censorship.3 Moreover, many online journalists have been jailed or investigated on serious charges in a bid to silence them, with court proceedings often repeatedly postponed in order to maintain the threat of jail time; a number of such cases took place during this report’s coverage period (see C3).4 In a state that punishes investigative reporting and whistle-blowing, people with sensitive information tend to stay quiet to avoid possible retribution.

B5 0-4 pts
Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest? 24

Many of the major online news sources are both directly and indirectly linked to powerful figures connected to, or within, the Moroccan state. Spanning from wealthy businessmen to royal advisors,1 their influence could skew the online news landscape toward the interests of those in power. Additionally, numerous accounts have been created on Twitter and Facebook, apparently with the sole purpose of harassing, intimidating, and threatening activists who criticize authorities. Activists believe that these progovernment commentators are also equipped with direct or indirect access to surveillance tools, since they have often obtained private information about other users.2 There is no clear indication of the identities behind the accounts or whether they are state-sponsored agents or simply overzealous private individuals. However, given the amount of time and energy needed to engage in such activity, and the access they have to private information, there are serious doubts that these are ordinary citizens acting on their own personal impetus.

In addition, during the coverage period a progovernment online media outlet published false information against a prominent activist, Nasser Zefzafi, who led the Hirak Rif protests (see B8) and was then imprisoned. Zefzafi was nominated for a freedom of thought award by the European Parliament and lost to another finalist in October 2018. The online, progovernment news outlet Cawalisse subsequently alleged in an article that he was a criminal, rather than a human rights advocate, and that the European Parliament had thus withdrawn his name “from the list of winners.”3

In January 2019, Morocco’s national police, the General Directorate of National Security (DGSN), opened an official Twitter account, signaling a more official presence of Moroccan state actors online.4 Earlier, there had reportedly been instances of people pretending to be government bodies and officials online. The DGSN’s official presence on social media may indicate a push toward not just sharing official information, but also controlling the information attributed to it.

B6 0-3 pts
Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online? 13

Morocco’s more critical online outlets operate in an environment where the government has used financial pressure to push the most outspoken print-based media outlets into closure or bankruptcy.

Advertising revenue provided by the government or government-linked companies is not split fairly between independent and progovernment publications.1 The Moroccan media sector includes a variety of “shadow” outlets, which are nominally independent but editorially supportive of the state.2 They exist primarily to divert attention from other news portals and to compete for online advertising money and audience share. There is no evidence linking these outlets to a larger state strategy to counter the growth of voices of dissent. However, they receive large amounts of advertising, possibly in return for their progovernment bias.

Powerful business entities, such as the three telecommunication companies, are known to adhere to state pressure to withdraw advertising money from news outlets that run counter to the state-owned media narrative.3 In an interview, prominent journalist Aboubakr Jamai explained that “the carrot in Morocco is bigger than the stick; the state would rather reward you for obedience than punish you for dissent.”4

Creating a news website in Morocco is relatively complicated.5 For example, the Ministry of Culture and Communication had long refused to grant press cards to the directors of two important French-language online news sites, Yabiladi and Le Desk.6 It took seven months before Mohamed Ezzouak and Ali Amar received their cards in May 2018. Without such cards, based on the new 2016 press code, it is illegal to practice journalism in Morocco.

Articles 33 and 34 of the press code stipulate that to obtain press cards and benefit from state financial support, online news portals must acquire two types of authorizations from two different bodies, valid for one year at a time: from the Moroccan Cinema Center (CCM) to produce video content,7 and from ANRT to host domain names under press.ma.8 While these measures are in line with international practices, press freedom advocates have warned that the regulators may be subject to political pressure to deny authorizations based on the editorial policies of outlets.

Digital advertisers were obliged to pay a 5 percent tax starting in January 2018, after the General Tax Administration issued a memo calling for the new levy and the government duly modified Articles 251(b), 254, and 183(b) of the general tax code in its annual budget bill.9 The memo stipulates “an enlargement of the stamp tax duty for all advertising broadcast on all types of digital screens.”10 Critics warned that the tax will stifle an already financially fragile media sector. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of Moroccan advertisers use global online platforms such as Google and Facebook, and since these platforms do not pay any taxes to the Moroccan government, their market share will grow at the expense of local websites.11 The Association of the Moroccan Digital Press and the Moroccan Federation of Newspaper Editors both denounced the decision.

B7 0-4 pts
Does the online information landscape lack diversity? 34

Debates on issues related to the monarchy do not make news, though social media users openly tackle such taboo subjects. Social media users, especially on Facebook and Twitter, openly joke about the monarchy, disseminating memes as a form of political expression, including ones addressing topics that touch upon the king’s rumored divorce, for example.1 Users also questioned the king’s public support for a Moroccan pop singer jailed in Paris in October 2016 over accusations of rape,2 even as online news outlets refrained from mentioning the king when reporting on the topic (see B8).3

A notable change in internet use among Moroccans has been the growing interest in domestic portals. In 2010, the country’s top 10 most-visited websites did not include any Moroccan news sites.4 By 2019, the list included seven Moroccan websites—five news sites, one classified ad platform (Avito), and one sports site. One of the news outlets, Chouftv is the highest ranked website in Morocco, second only to Google. Other popular sites include Hespress, Hibapress, Aldar, 2m, and the sports site Elbotola.5

B8 0-6 pts
Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues? 66

Internet users take advantage of various social media tools to educate, organize, and mobilize people on a wide variety of issues. Starting in September 2018, a collective of Moroccans mobilized online to create the #Masaktach (“I will not be silenced”) campaign, which has been compared to the #MeToo movement.”1 Among the actions the group organized was to encourage women to blow whistles on the street if they faced sexual harassment.2 They also called for the removal of Saad Lamjarred from the airwaves, a Moroccan singer charged with rape in France. Two of Morocco’s major radio stations, Radio 2M and Hit Radio, announced they would no longer play his music in response to the campaign.3

In April 2018, a group of online activists launched a campaign to boycott products from three major companies to protest increases in the cost of living. The boycott targeted Centrale Danone (dairy products), Sidi Ali (mineral water), and Afriquia (gas stations), which control 60 percent, 55 percent, and 29 percent of their respective national markets.4 Related hashtags in Arabic—#مقاطعون and #خلبه إريب (#boycotting and #let it spoil, in reference to milk)—trended online. The economic impact of the boycott was evident 10 days after it started. On April 30, Afriquia and Centrale Danone recorded major drops in market value on the Casablanca Stock Exchange, with shares in each falling by nearly 6 percent.5

Digital activists continue to provide a platform for the Hirak Rif protests centered in the northern coastal city of al-Hoceima. The ongoing demonstrations began in October 2016 after fish vendor Mouhcine Fikri was crushed in a trash compactor while trying to recover fish that the authorities had confiscated because it was allegedly caught illegally.6 Two hashtags in Arabic—#طحن_مو (“grind him”) and #كلنا_محسن_فكري (“We are all Mouhcine Fikri”)—trended online and mobilized the initial street demonstrations.7 The Hirak Rif protests are now focused on the release of the leader of the movement, Nasser Zefzafi, and other prominent activists. Zefzafi was arrested in May 2017 and sentenced to 20 years in prison in June 2018.8

C Violations of User Rights

Moroccan laws on criminal defamation and terrorism continue to pose a threat to free speech. Several online journalists and activists received prison sentences during the coverage period, including several who had reported on the crackdown against the Hirak Rif protests.

C1 0-6 pts
Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence? 26

The Moroccan constitution contains provisions designed to protect freedom of expression, but these principles are not defended by the judiciary.

According to the 2011 constitution, which was passed by referendum to curtail public protests at the onset of the Arab Spring, all Moroccan citizens are equal before the law, and Article 25 guarantees all citizens “freedom of opinion and expression in all its forms.”1 Although the constitution strengthened the judiciary as a separate branch of government, the judicial system in Morocco is far from independent. The king chairs the Supreme Council of the Judiciary and appoints a number of its members; at least half are elected by fellow judges.2 In practice, the courts often fail to produce fair and balanced rulings, frequently basing their decisions on recommendations from security forces.3

C2 0-4 pts
Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities? 14

Moroccan users may be punished for their online activities under the penal code, the antiterrorism law, and the press code. Article 218(2) of the antiterrorism law prescribes prison terms of two to six years and fines of 10,000 to 200,000 dirhams ($1,000 to $21,000) for those convicted of condoning acts of terrorism through offline or online speech.1

A new press code passed in June 2016 received mixed reactions among free speech activists.2 Unlike the previous press code from 2002, the new code contains provisions that specifically apply to online media.3 Most significantly, the code eliminated jail sentences for press offenses and replaced them with steep fines. Articles 71 and 72 authorize fines of up to 200,000 dirhams ($21,000) for publishing content seen as disruptive to public order. The maximum fine is 500,000 dirhams ($52,000) if the content offends the military. The fines are largely unaffordable for Moroccan journalists, who may be imprisoned for failure to pay.4

Under the unreformed penal code, journalists can still be jailed for speech offenses related to the monarchy, Islam, and Western Sahara, as well as threats to national security. Defamation also remains a criminal offense.

C3 0-6 pts
Are individuals penalized for online activities? 26

Moroccans, particularly prominent journalists and activists, continue to face arrest and prosecution for their peaceful online activities. Although the press code ostensibly protects journalists from being jailed for their work, the government has found other ways to punish them. Court cases are often repeatedly postponed, allowing authorities to avoid international condemnation that might result from convictions and harsh sentences, while still encouraging self-censorship. For example, a group of seven prominent online journalists and activists who face serious charges in retribution for their work have had their trial repeatedly postponed since 2015.1 Ali Anouzla, editor in chief of the Lakome news site’s Arabic version, also continues to face charges of "advocacy of acts amounting to terrorism offenses" and “providing assistance to perpetrators or accomplices of acts of terrorism" after his arrest in 2013.2

A number of online reporters and activists were convicted of crimes during the coverage period. In March 2019, Kawtar Zaki and Abdelilah Sakhir, both of the online outlet Eljarida 24, received six-month suspended prison sentences and 10,000 dirham ($1,000) fines following a complaint filed by Hakim Benchamach, speaker of Morocco’s upper chamber of Parliament.3 The journalists reported on the findings of a parliamentary commission on social security and were charged with laws specific to the circulation of information within parliamentary commissions, as opposed to the press code. Abdelhak Belchkar of the print outlet Akhbar Alyawm and its website, Alyaoum24, was convicted on the same charges, and received the same sentence, as did Mohammed Ahdad of the print outlet Almassae.

In October 2018, blogger Soufian al-Nguad was handed down a two-year sentence and a fine of 20,000 dirham ($2,000) for using Facebook to incite people to participate in an unauthorized protest.4 Al-Nguad was reacting to the death of Hayat Belkacem, a 19-year old student who was shot and killed by the Moroccan coast guard as she was trying to migrate to Spain on a boat.5 After an appeal in February 2019, the sentence was reduced to a year and a 2,500 dirham ($260) fine.6

Several online journalists and activists were arrested and imprisoned as part of a crackdown on the Hirak Rif protests. Protester Elmortada Iamrachen’s conviction was upheld by an appeals court in November 2018. The previous year, he had been sentenced to five years in prison for incitement to terrorism on Facebook, based on a coerced signed confession.7 Hamid Mahdaoui, editor in chief of the news site Badil, was arrested while attempting to cover demonstrations in al-Hoceima in July 2017 and was initially sentenced to three months in jail for unspecified speech offenses, extended to one year on appeal in September 2018.8 He was separately charged with “failure to report a threat to state security,” based on a wiretap recording in which he reportedly received an unsolicited call from an individual who said he was planning to smuggle weapons to the country. In June 2018, Mahdaoui was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 3,000 dirhams ($300).9 Mahdaoui had become well-known for uploading YouTube videos that expressed support for the Hirak Rif protests.

Other journalists arrested in June 2017 for covering the protests included Mohamed al-Asrihi and Jawad Sabiri (the news site Rif24), Abdelali Haddou (Araghi TV Facebook page), Rabiaa al-Ablaq (the Badil news site), Alhussain al-Idrissi (Rifpress), and Fouad Essaidi (Awar TV Facebook page).10 In June 2018, after a year in custody, Haddou, al-Asrihi, al-Ablaq, and al-Idrissi were each sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 2,000 dirhams ($200), Essaidi was sentenced to three years, and Sabiri was sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 2,000 dirhams.11

Separately, Taoufiq Bouachrine, publisher of Akhbar Alyawm and its website, Alyaoum24, was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for sexual assault in November 2018 after a trial that drew domestic and international criticism for irregular procedures.12 Police had arrested him in February 2018;13 he was also charged with offenses including human trafficking and rape. The prosecutor claimed to possess more than 50 video recordings as evidence, while the defense argued that the case was fabricated by the authorities to silence Bouachrine’s critical editorials. Among the women who accused Bouachrine of assault, four claimed that police distorted their testimonies, and one faced charges for making this claim.14 Several press freedom organizations raised concerns about the conduct of the trial, and Bouachrine’s treatment while in custody.15

Journalists also faced interrogations over the last year. In April 2019, Omar Radi was summoned by police and questioned over a tweet that was critical of the judge who handed down prison sentences against activists of the Hirak movement.16 Radi was among several participants of an online show called 1 Dîner, 2 Cons, in which guests gather to discuss social and political issues in Morocco. The last episode of the show was filmed in August 2018 at the headquarters of cultural organization Racines. Just four months after its release on YouTube, a judge ordered the dissolution of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) for hosting it.17

C4 0-4 pts
Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption? 34

Anonymous and encrypted communication tools are generally accessible in Morocco, although some ambiguity remains regarding the legality of their acquisition and use.1 Article 13 of Law 53(05) of 2007 states that the “the import, export, supply, operation or use of means or cryptographic services” are subject to prior authorization, and outlines harsh penalties for noncompliance. However, the law does not specify whether the restrictions apply only to businesses or to private persons as well.2 Decree 2-13-88137, adopted in 2015, shifted responsibility for authorizing and monitoring “electronic certifications,” including encryption, from the civilian ANRT to the military’s General Directorate for the Security of Information Systems. Civil society advocates saw the move as problematic, given the lack of accountability and oversight at military institutions.3

Purchasers of SIM cards must register their names and national identity numbers with telecommunications operators under a 2014 decision by the ANRT.4 Unregistered SIM cards are shut down after one month. At cybercafés, however, internet users do not need to register or provide identification.

C5 0-6 pts
Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy? 26

Sophisticated surveillance tools have reportedly been deployed in Morocco, and Moroccan activists have identified surveillance capabilities as among the most dangerous instruments in the hands of the state.1

A September 2018 Citizen Lab report revealed that, starting in August 2017, operators may have employed the Israeli company NSO Group’s Pegasus spying software, which is sold only to governments, in Morocco.2 While it is not entirely clear who may have been targeted, past targets of spying software in Morocco have included political activists.3

Reports, leaks, and interviews have revealed the use of malware products from the Italian company Hacking Team to target activists.4 Previously, French news site Reflets.info had published an investigation on the purchase of spyware from the French company Amesys for use in Morocco.5

Activists have demanded that the state be more transparent about who conducts surveillance, who is targeted, and to what end.6 Instead, authorities have retaliated against the activists who voice their concerns. After the publication of interviews and investigations into surveillance practices in Morocco by Privacy International and Morocco’s Digital Rights Association (ADN), the Interior Ministry announced that a criminal complaint had been filed against “persons who distributed a report containing grave accusations about spying practices.” 7

The awareness of being systematically monitored affects the way activists perceive the risks they take and the margin of freedom they have. Hisham Almiraat, cofounder of the website Mamfakinch and one of the leaders of the February 20th Movement of 2011, explained that the state’s capacity to own and reconstruct one’s personal story, based on surveillance and monitoring, allows authorities to “assassinate your character and use your own information to hurt you.”8

C6 0-6 pts
Are service providers and other technology companies required to aid the government in monitoring the communications of their users? 26

According to the National Control Commission for the Protection of Personal Data (CNDP), individuals maintain the right to approve or deny the processing of their personal data by both public and private entities, except in the following cases: a legal obligation, if the individual is subject to a contractual agreement, if the individual is physically incapacitated or legally unable to give consent, if it is in the national interest, or the party accessing the data holds a “legitimate interest.”1 While 2009 Law 1-09-15 leaves “exceptions” regarding access to people’s data, “the language is left open to interpretation,” according to Privacy International—which may yield inconsistencies in its legal application.2

C7 0-5 pts
Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in retribution for their online activities? 35

There were no incidents of violence against users for their online activities during the coverage period, but harassment and extralegal intimidation remain a major concern in the country, particularly during police interrogations.1

  • 1. Interview with Hisham Almiraat, 24 March 2017.

C8 0-3 pts
Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack? 13

Online news portals that carry dissenting views are subject to cyberattacks.1 Reports and interviews with prominent activists point to an ongoing campaign by anonymous hacking groups to target perceived opponents of the establishment. Groups such as the Monarchist Youth, the Moroccan Repression Force, the Moroccan Nationalist Group, and the Royal Brigade of Dissuasion have hacked into activists’ e-mail and social media accounts, often publishing offensive content in a bid to harm their reputations.2

Explanatory Note:

Western Sahara is not covered in this report. Certain territories that are assessed separately in Freedom House's Freedom in the World report are excluded from the relevant country reports in Freedom on the Net, as conditions in such territories differ significantly from those in the rest of the country.

Country Facts

  • Freedom in the World Status

    Partly Free
  • Networks Restricted

    No
  • Websites Blocked

    No
  • Pro-government Commentators

    Yes
  • Users Arrested

    Yes