The Kalima project: Defending freedom of expression

MoroccoCapacity buildingNews

Rabat (Morocco), 8 August 2014 – Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) launches its training and awareness-raising programme as part of the project for the promotion of freedom of expression and the protection of persons such as journalists and bloggers. This project, known as Kalima, is taking place in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia, in a region which is undergoing a significant political transition. It also marks the opening of an ASF office in Morocco.

While government authorities in Tunisia and Morocco respect the right of freedom of expression more than in the past, the protection of those directly involved in this freedom is not always guaranteed. In Egypt, the situation is more dramatic, in particular for journalists who are subjected to pressures and threats, most notably in the name of the fight against terrorism. Whether they are bloggers, lawyers, journalists or human rights defenders, the aim of the Kalima project is specifically to support these parties in their commitment to the protection and promotion of freedom of expression.

“We called the project Kalima because this Arabic word means both speech and word. It plays on the two freedoms which are the object of this project: freedom of speechor expression, and freedom of the press”, explains Bahia Zrikem, the ASF representative based in Rabat.

Specifically, Kalima is being implemented with partners from Moroccan, Tunisian and Egyptian civil society. It is about supporting, protecting and strengthening the rights of any person or organisation that expresses an opinion, testifies or disseminates information in a peaceful and independent manner, including through the media.

Activities to improve the skills and competencies of lawyers in relation to the protection and promotion of freedom of expression will be organised. In collaboration with its partners, ASF is also hoping to create a regional platform for discussion and advocacy, bringing together the stakeholders involved in the promotion of the right to freedom of expression in the three countries concerned.

Finally, Bahia Zrikem notes that “persons who are the victims of actions intended to impede their freedom to express themselves can contact us. We work closely with lawyers and human rights organisations in order to provide legal protection to those who request it, whether that is legal assistance or even observing the trial”.

Through the Kalima project, ASF will be sharing its expertise in relation to access to justice with local NGOs, lawyers and journalists to enable them to make use of the legal framework available. The aim is to protect and expand freedom of expression in a sustainable way in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.

The training programme and the awareness-raising workshops began last June in Rabat. This activity, which was organised in collaboration with the Moroccan association ADALA, allowed 25 Moroccan journalists and lawyers to acquire a better understanding of defamation charges which can be used to restrict freedom of expression. The mission of ADALA (an Arabic word meaning justice) is to help to promote the right to a fair trial, and in particular the independence of the judiciary.