Morocco court cuts jail term over newspaper spy leak

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RABAT, Sep 18 (Reuters) A Moroccan court atoday handed a reduced prison sentence to a journalist who published leaked intelligence information about an al Qaeda plot.

Mustapha Hourmatallah, a reporter for Al Watan Alaan (The Homeland Now), was sentenced to eight months in prison on August 15, drawing criticism from human rights lawyers and press freedom activists.

He was allowed to leave jail this month pending a decision by the Casablanca appeal court, raising hopes among his supporters that he would soon be freed.

But the court today only reduced his sentence by one month, according to official news agency MAP. Hourmatallah's editor Aderrahim Ariri had a six-month suspended prison term cut to five months and the court upheld fines against both men.

Their article was entitled ''The Secret Reports Behind Morocco's State of Alert'' and contained details of a military intelligence report that al Qaeda had decided to send 12 Arab and four Pakistani fighters to carry out attacks in Morocco and other North African states. The journalists were not sentenced under Morocco's press aw but under criminal charges of ''receiving and concealing stolen documents''.

A Moroccan military court also sentenced eight army officers to up to five years imprisonment for leaking intelligence information to Al Watan.

North Africa has been on alert since al Qaeda's regional wing, Algeria-based Al Qaeda Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb, threatened in July to step up its war against ''corrupt'' regional rulers and their Western allies.

Government officials say Morocco is committed to further press freedom but journalists should not feel above the law.


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