By Aziz El Yaakoubi
RABAT (Reuters) - Morocco has expelled a Dutch reporter for working without accreditation, state media said on Tuesday.
The North African kingdom has been criticized by rights groups over what they say are curbs on free speech and media. The government denies this, saying it respects press freedoms while calling on journalists and rights groups to obey the law.
Rik Goverde, who had been working in Morocco since 2013 as a freelancer for different Dutch media, said police arrested him on Monday as he was walking along a street in the capital Rabat.
"I was going to the bank when four police officers came from two sides and took me to the police station where they told me I will be expelled," Goverde told Reuters after his expulsion.
He said police let him visit his flat and take his belongings. He was then driven straight to Tangier port where they put him on a ferry to Algeciras, Spain on Monday night.
The state news agency MAP said on Tuesday, quoting a government source, that Goverde had been working without accreditation. "Authorities ... have expelled a Dutch national for repeatedly violating rules regulating the work of foreign correspondents on Moroccan territory," MAP said.
Goverde said from Spain that he had applied twice for accreditation in 2014 and in 2015, but never got a response.
Last month, a prominent Moroccan intellectual and several journalists and activists were charged with receiving foreign funds with the intent to undermine Moroccan institutions.
In another case, Ali Lmrabet, a Moroccan editor critical of the government, went on hunger strike for 34 days outside the United Nations offices in Geneva in July after authorities refused to renew his passport and residency papers.
Moroccan television is tightly controlled by the state. Text journalists enjoy more freedom though they run the risk of being jailed for critical writing, especially on topics such as the royal family and Islam.
Last week, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups urged Morocco to drop all charges against journalists and activists.
(Editing by Patrick Markey and Mark Heinrich)