Moroccan authorities have sentenced a Youtuber who criticized the king to prison, and detained a journalist-activist who defended anti-government protesters in a tweet.
Freedom of speech advocates say the moves Thursday reflect growing pressure against those who use social networks to express anger at economic and social problems.
A court in Settat handed a four-year prison sentence to Mohammed Bekkaki for referring to Moroccans as donkeys and criticizing King Mohammed VI, in a video posted on YouTube in November. The royal family is widely revered in Morocco, and criticizing the king is a criminal offense.
Also Thursday, journalist and activist Omar Radi was detained in Casablanca and charged with insulting a judge. Radi's arrest was prompted by a tweet six months ago criticizing a Moroccan court's decision to hand maximum prison sentences to leaders of mass demonstrations in the poverty-stricken northern Rif region.
The Casablanca court refused to grant Radi bail pending the next hearing Jan. 2, said activist Khalid El Bekkari, who was in the court when Radi was charged. If convicted, Radi could face up to a year in prison and a 500 euro ($555) fine. It was unclear why the arrest occurred so long after the original tweet.
Radi was also part of Arab Spring protests in Morocco in 2011 that pushed against corruption and abuse of power and limits on free speech, and he has continued to defend human rights since then.
Morocco, long known for its stability in the Arab world, adopted constitutional reforms in response to the Arab Spring, but the country is still struggling with poverty, corruption and unemployment.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the Moroccan constitution, but with limits. Authorities say some social media users are pushing those limits too far, sometimes for personal gain.
But rights activists say authorities are trying to cover up their inability to solve Morocco's problems.
"There is a strong escalation against freedom of expression by authorities, shown by the successive arrests and trials of bloggers and social media users to express their anger over the deteriorating social and economic conditions," the Moroccan Freedom Now association said in a statement after Radi's arrest.
Last month a rapper known as Gnawi went on trial over a video in which he insulted the police. His supporters viewed his arrest as punishment for another, hugely popular YouTube video that rages against Moroccan powers-that-be and criticizes the country's widening economic gap.
A Turkish court on Friday convicted six journalists and one other employee of an independent newspaper of aiding the network of a U.S.-based cleric who is accused of masterminding the failed coup in 2016, the state-run news agency reported.
The seven were accused of supporting the coup through their work for the newspaper Sozcu, which has been extremely critical of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They all reject the accusations and are expected to appeal the verdicts.
The case has intensified concerns over a crackdown under Erdogan on news coverage critical of his administration.
Columnists Emin Colasan and Necati Dogru were sentenced to three years and six months in prison, Anadolu Agency reported. The paper's chief editor Metin Yilmaz and its online edition's managing editor, Mustafa Cetin, received just over three years in prison, while online news editor Yucel Ari, financial manager Yonca Yucelan and journalist Gokmen Ulu were sentenced to two-year prison terms.
The court in Istanbul acquitted one journalist, Mediha Olgun, of the charges.
A case against the paper's owner, Burak Akbay, who is living abroad and being tried in absentia, is to continue separately, Anadolu reported.
Turkey accuses Gulen of orchestrating the coup and has branded his network a terror organization. Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States, denies any involvement in the coup attempt.
Turkey is ranked the highest jailer of journalists in the world, after China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The Turkish Journalists Syndicate says at least 108 journalists or media sector employees are currently in prison.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shored up his base with a landslide primary victory announced early Friday, but he will need a big win in national elections in March if he hopes to stay in office and gain immunity from prosecution on corruption charges.
Netanyahu handily defeated Gideon Saar, a former aide and Cabinet minister, in a Likud party primary held Thursday, winning 72% of the vote.
"This is the time to unite, to bring a sweeping victory to the Likud and the right in the Knesset elections," Netanyahu told reporters Friday. "The final and sweeping primary decision was a huge expression of trust in my way, in our way."
Only around half the party's 116,000 registered members turned out to vote, in part because of stormy weather. They represent the most faithful members of a party defined by fierce loyalty, which has only had four leaders since it was founded in the 1970s.
Netanyahu faces a much greater challenge in March — the third vote in less than a year — after failing to form a government in the last two elections, held in April and September.
This time around the stakes are much higher. Netanyahu was indicted last month on serious charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His best hope of escaping prosecution is to gain a 61-seat majority in parliament that is willing to grant him immunity.
"A candidate for prime minister who is under indictment and requests immunity for himself is something we've never had," Yossi Verter wrote in the Haaretz newspaper. "It's hard to see how he, with all his sophisticated campaigning abilities, can make this situation work in his favor."
The September vote left Netanyahu's Likud in a virtual tie with the centrist Blue and White party led by former army chief of staff Benny Gantz. Neither was able to form a majority with their natural allies, and they were unable to form a national unity government in part because Blue and White refused to accept an indicted prime minister.
Polls indicate the March vote would produce a similar outcome, rounding out more than a year of uncertainty in which Netanyahu has led a caretaker government.
"It appears that the defendant Netanyahu, who is leading the State of Israel down a path of corruption, will continue to lead Likud," Gantz said in a statement. "Blue and White must achieve a decisive outcome that will extricate us from both political deadlock and a path of corruption."
The Supreme Court is meanwhile set to meet next week to consider whether an indicted member of parliament is eligible to become prime minister. It's unclear when a ruling would be handed down, but if the court finds Netanyahu ineligible it could precipitate a constitutional crisis.
Reuven Hazan, a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said the court is likely to defer any ruling, potentially even until after the elections.
"They understand that if he wins big tonight and they turn around and say he cannot be prime minister, then although they've done their job, which is to make the right legal decision, that they will be in political turmoil that could rip the elections apart," Hazan said Thursday, before the primary results were announced.
Netanyahu is already Israel's longest-serving prime minister and has cultivated the image of a veteran statesman with close personal ties to President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders.
His refusal over the last decade to make any concessions to the Palestinians was rewarded after Trump took office, as the U.S. began openly siding with Israel on several key issues.
Netanyahu's hard-line stance on Iran has also proved popular. He was a staunch opponent of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which has unraveled since Trump withdrew from the agreement. A wave of Israeli strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq in recent years has burnished Netanyahu's claims to having protected Israel from its enemies.
His fortunes have nevertheless waned over the past year. His party came in second place in September's elections, and two months later he was indicted on allegations of trading legislative and regulatory favors for lavish gifts and favorable media coverage.
Netanyahu has dismissed the indictment as an "attempted coup" by hostile media and law enforcement and has vowed to battle the charges from the prime minister's office.
The political uncertainty has led the Trump administration to delay the release of its long-anticipated Mideast peace plan.
The Palestinians have already rejected the plan, saying the administration is marching in lockstep with Israel's right-wing government. They point to Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital, to cut off virtually all aid to the Palestinians and to reverse longstanding opposition to Jewish settlements in annexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 war.
Netanyahu has meanwhile said that Israel is on the cusp of securing U.S. support for the annexation of large parts of the occupied West Bank — but only if he remains in power.
That would all but extinguish the Palestinians' hope of one day establishing an independent state while cementing Netanyahu's legacy as a transformative leader.
In recent weeks, Netanyahu shifted away from the divisiveness of his previous campaigns and appeared rejuvenated as he met face-to-face with Likud supporters during a packed schedule of public events. He has long been seen as a political magician, and the new approach could allow him to pull off yet another comeback.
"One might say that Netanyahu seems reinvigorated and rejuvenated both for the election fight in March and the struggle against those corruption charges. Except that, in essence, they are two sides of the same coin," David Horovitz, the founding editor of the Times of Israel, wrote. "If he wins in March, he may have the political power to fend off those court cases as well with an immunity bid. If he loses, of course, even Likud may not again be so forgiving."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed security issues related to Iran and Syria on Thursday, Israeli officials said.
In a phone call, the two talked about the Iranian presence in Syria, Israel's northern neighbor, according to a statement issued by the Israeli Prime Minister's office.
Netanyahu also asked Putin to act for the release of Naama Issachar, an Israeli woman imprisoned in Russia for drugs found in her luggage during transit through a Moscow airport.
Israel and Iran have been engaged in an ongoing shadow war in Syria, with Israel carrying out airstrikes in Syria against Iranian targets and weapons convoy to Hezbollah.
Dozens of protesters staged a sit-in outside the central bank and the Lebanese Banks' Association building Thursday to protest the banks' policies amid unprecedented capital controls.
The protesters called on citizens to stop paying their loans and taxes and demanded that loan payments be rescheduled after amending interest rates.
Banks have imposed weekly limits on withdrawals of U.S. dollars amid a shortage in liquidity and as the country grapples with its worst economic and financial crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The country has been without a prime minister since ongoing mass protests forced the resignation of Premier Saad Hariri on Oct. 29.
Meanwhile, layoffs are increasing, salary cuts have become the norm and prices are quickly rising.
Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh told reporters Thursday the bank would investigate all bank transfers that took place in 2019, referring to recent reports that senior politicians were allowed to transfer money abroad even as they imposed unprecedented restrictions on transfers and withdrawals by rank-and-file depositors.
"We hope the country improves so the economy can improve," Salameh said, without commenting directly on the controls imposed by the banks, which many experts say are illegal.