October 14, 2015 / 3:21 PM / 3 years ago

Moroccan intellectual collapses after hunger strike over ban

RABAT (Reuters) - A prominent Moroccan intellectual who went on hunger strike a week ago, protesting against a travel ban and police harassment, has collapsed and is in hospital, members of his support committee said on Wednesday.

Critics say Morocco’s king is letting slide freedoms that he promised four years ago as a concession to protesters when he approved a new constitution devolving some court powers to parliament and the government in unheralded political reforms.

It is the second time Maati Monjib, a professor of political history and African studies at the University of Rabat and a writer for national and international news organizations, has been on hunger strike. He collapsed on Tuesday night.

“He is still in the hospital, we were expecting him to leave on Wednesday morning but doctors said that his blood pressure is not stable,” said Samad Ayach, a member of Monjib’s support committee.

Monjib started a second hunger strike last Wednesday after authorities banned him from boarding a plane to Norway for an international conference on journalism in Lillehammer. He went on three days hunger strike earlier this month when he was banned from going to a conference in Barcelona.

Moroccan authorities said they imposed the ban because of an investigation into suspected financial wrongdoing.

Monjib and many of his associates have been interrogated by Moroccan police on allegations of tarnishing Morocco’s image abroad, getting funds from hostile foreign organizations and destabilizing citizens’ confidence in their institutions.

“I know my health would not tolerate hunger strikes, but better to die than live in such injustice,” Monjib told Reuters two days before he collapsed.

He is known in Morocco for supporting Moroccan investigative journalism. He closed his Ibn Rochd Institute (Averroes) saying authorities had banned many of its meetings and conferences.

This and the Moroccan association of investigative journalism (AMJI), another group in which Monjib was involved, were funded by Netherlands-based organizations Free Press and IMS (International Media Support).

An interior ministry statement said Monjib was banned from traveling because of a financial investigation into Ibn Rochd.

The Moroccan government spokesman and communication minister did not answer calls for a comment.

Hicham Mansouri, an investigative reporter working for AMJI, was sentenced to 10 months in prison on an adultery charge last March that critics say was an attempt to muzzle him.

Morocco television is tightly controlled and outspoken publications have been forced out of business, usually citing pressure on advertisers. Text reporters enjoy more freedom, but still risk being imprisoned for critical writings.

Editing by Patrick Markey/Ruth Pitchford

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