Morocco sentences journalists over Islam jokes

Casablanca, Morocco - A Moroccan court on Monday sentenced two journalists who published a list of popular jokes about Islam, sex and politics to suspended three-year jail terms and banned their magazine for two months.

Editors and journalists at Nichane, which means "As it is", had feared the worst when the state prosecutor said last week the magazine should be banned for good and the two journalists jailed for up to five years and forbidden from practising journalism.

But the Casablanca court's presiding judge, Noureddine Ghassin, handed down a lighter sentence on Monday. As well as the two-month ban, he fined Nichane 80,000 Moroccan dirhams.

The magazine journalists and editors left the court without commenting but their lawyer Chawki Benyoun said he would lodge an appeal soon.

Nichane's editor Driss Ksikes and reporter Sanaa al-Aji told the court last week the jokes were published merely to accompany an analysis of Moroccan society.

The magazine apologised to readers who may have been offended by the jokes after the article triggered indignation among conservative Islamists in Morocco and abroad.

Last month, Prime Minister Driss Jettou ordered Nichane off news stands pending the trial, saying the jokes were an attack on Islam and "went against morals and customs".

Morocco's press is widely seen as one of the freest in the Arab world but journalists can still find themselves before a judge when they overstep some limits like questioning the king's role as guardian of Islam or Morocco's claim to the disputed territory of Western Sahara.