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'I'm being attacked for being a journalist': Morocco criticised over press freedom in Western Sahara

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By Yaiza Martín-Fradejas  & Cristina Abellan-Matamoros  with EFE
'I'm being attacked for being a journalist': Morocco criticised over press freedom in Western Sahara
Copyright  EURONEWS

A journalist has criticised Morocco over press freedom after being fined for allegedly not having the right media accreditation.

Nazha el-Khalidi said she was arrested last December while filming a pro-independence demonstration in Laayoune, a city in the Western Sahara region.

The protest coincided with the first round of UN-mediated negotiations in Geneva between those fighting over control of the region.

A former Spanish colony, Western Sahara is a disputed territory between Morocco and the Polisario Front — a Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement that aims to end the Moroccan presence in Western Sahara.

A court in Morocco has now fined El-Khalidi 4,000 dirhams (€400) on the grounds that she did not have press accreditation to work as a journalist.

The crime is punishable in Moroccan law with a prison term, but the court stopped short of imposing this.

El-Khalidi told Euronews that Morocco was trying to stop her documenting alleged police violence towards the Sahrawi.

READ MORE: UN envoy looking for a 'compromise' during second round of talks on Western Sahara

“The Moroccan government is going to attack me once again and again anytime I try to document the violations or try to do journalism,” she said.

The journalist also denounced the lack of press freedom in Western Sahara imposed by Morocco.

"I want to denounce the media blockade that Morocco is imposing on the territory of Western Sahara. We are also asking for more international pressure on Morocco and that international watchdog gain access into the territory in order to document the human rights violations towards the Sahwari people."

Several international organisations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned el-Khalidi’s trial and called the accusations "unfounded".

The tweet reads: #Western Sahara: The court yesterday fined the human rights activist and journalist #Nouzha al-Khalidi 400 euros for arbitrary and unfounded accusations related to her work as a journalist. We call on the Moroccan authorities to give enough space for freedom of expression and respect for press work.

The tweet reads: _Morocco has sentenced Sahwa activist Nozha al-Khalidi for "plagiarism". The charge was not originally legitimate. To remind, position @hrw_ar in the topic._

On June 23, three Spanish lawyers tried to enter Western Sahara to witness the trial but Moroccan authorities prevented them from attending the trial. They also stopped access to two American journalists, reported Spanish media.

Euronews has made several attempts to contact Morocco's justice ministry for comment on this story, but they have no returned our calls.