Investigative Moroccan journalist goes on hunger strike after being banned from leaving nation

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RABAT, Morocco — A Moroccan historian and journalist said Thursday he has gone on hunger strike after being banned from leaving the country because he is under investigation for harming the country's image.

Despite having a reputation as a moderate and open country, Morocco is often accused of harassing those critical of it, especially journalists.

Maati Monjib, who ran an institute for investigative journalism and was a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, began his hunger strike Wednesday night after he was stopped from attending a conference in Barcelona on political change in the region.

"My hunger strike is in protest of the pressure I've been under (by the state) for quite a while and so that they will respect my freedom of movement and my academic freedom," he told The Associated Press.

Morocco's government spokesman could not be reached to comment on the hunger strike.

Monjib discovered he was under investigation on Aug. 31 when he was detained briefly at the airport when returning from France.

On Monday, he was summoned by a prosecutor and questioned on accusations of tarnishing the country's image abroad, using foreign funds to promote a foreign agenda and destabilizing citizens' allegiance to their institutions. Formal charges have not yet been issued but associates have also been questioned.

Monjib's Ibn Rushd Institute for Investigative journalism trained hundreds of Moroccan journalists in investigative techniques and civic journalism. He shut the institute down in December after repeated interference from the state.

Hicham Mansouri, an associate of Monjib's and also an investigative journalist, was convicted of adultery and imprisoned in March, many believe for his work as well.

In the Reporters Without Borders 2015 Index of Press Freedom, Morocco ranks 130 out of 180 countries.

Monjib said the state feels threatened by journalists and activists, fearing that they could become the nucleus of a future protest movement.

"They think Morocco is a powder keg and accuse us of lighting matches," he said.

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