Moroccan internet users have been unable to access YouTube since last week, amid fears that the country´s government is imposing restrictions on independent media. State authorities blame a technical glitch but bloggers suspect an attempt to stifle pro-independence protesters in Western Sahara. Latest: YouTube is back on, with Maroc Telecom representatives siting a technical problem as the cause. (30-MAY-07)
Written by Jonathan Richards, this article was first released today by Times Online (UK). It reached www.humanrightshouse.org via the electronic newsletters of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, and has been edited for redistribution here by HRH F / Niels Jacob Harbitz.
Latest, 30th of May: YouTube back on.
The video-sharing site YouTube is again accessible after being blocked since 25 May. Moroccans using the state-owned Maroc Telecom as their Internet Service Provider had been deprived of YouTube since last week, but not those using the privately-owned ISPs Wana and Meditel. It is unclear why YouTube was blocked. A Maroc Telecom spokesperson talked of a “technical problem” but videos parodying the monarchy or showing Sahrawi protesters may also have been the reason.
The video-sharing site has been blocked since last Friday, prompting speculation among bloggers about whether it has been censured by the country´s state-controlled telecommunications provider. A spokesman for the Maroc Telecom, which provides most internet access in Morocco, blamed the problem on a technical glitch, but bloggers were sceptical about the explanation, pointing out that the failure coincided with a wave of politically sensitive videos being posted on the site.
A Moroccan Government spokesman told the AP news agency that he was unable to comment on telecommunications issues. Since December last year, YouTube has hosted a series of videos entitled ´Western Sahara Intifada ´ that criticise the Government´s treatment of the people of Western Sahara, a territory that Morocco took control of in 1976 following the withdrawal of Spain, the colonial power. In several, cloaked figures are shown stealing through cities such as Laayoune, the region´s main city, under cover of darkness and spray-painting independence messages on the walls. Another, which was posted in December and has been viewed about 2,500 in the past month, purports to show police beating a group of women during a protest in Laayoune.
-This is not only shameful but also dangerous
“They´ve clearly blocked YouTube,” Abdelhakim Albarkani, an economics tudent from Rabat, said. “I´m worried, because YouTube allowed us to see things the state newspapers and television won´t show.” A blogger using the name Youssef, writing on Maghrebism , said: “This is not only shameful but also dangerous. If we stay silent, more sites and services will be blocked. We have to speak up and say that the recent block of Youtube is wrong and damaging – to internet-users but also Morocco.” Many Moroccans had hoped that, following his accession to the throne in 1999, King Mohammed VI would allow greater political freedom, but several subjects remain off limits, including criticism of the monarchy, Islam and the occupation of Western Sahara.
-Morocco guilty of ´selective filtering of a small number of websites´
One blogger speculated that the reason for the ban was a video entitled ´Mohammed VI the Thief ´, posted earlier this month, in which the king´s face is superimposed on a number of photographs including one in which a footballer grasps another´s crotch, and another of scantily clad dancers. Several sites promoting Western Saharan independence have already been blocked by Moroccan telecommunications authorities, and for much of last year Google´s satellite mapping tool Google Earth was also inaccessible. A recent report on global internet censorship released by the Open Net Initiative concluded that Morocco was among four carried our “selective filtering” of “a smaller number of websites”. Last month Thailand´s government blocked access to YouTube after a video was posted of the king with clownish features on his face and a picture of feet placed above his head – an image considered insulting.