RABAT (Reuters) - The Moroccan government said it was withdrawing accreditation from an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent who wrote an article casting doubt on the monarchy's neutrality in an election.
In a statement carried by state media on Friday, the government accused Omar Brouksy of publishing an "unprofessional news item" about the re-run vote in Tangier.
"AFP has conveyed allegations that involved the monarchy in this election, which took place in a transparent environment, thereby undermining its (the monarchy's) neutrality and role as arbitrator that sits above any electoral competition between political parties," it said.
"These allegations are also detrimental to the constitutional status of the monarchy and are in total contradiction with the absolute neutrality of the King and the royal family regarding the election."
The report by the French news agency had said the poll in Tangier pitted moderate Islamists of Justice and Development Party (PJD), currently leading the government, against "candidates ... of the Authenticity and Modernity Party (PAM), founded in 2008 by Fouad Ali El Himma, a close friend of King Mohammed".
A former schoolfriend of the king and one of his closest advisors, Himma is regarded as the second most influential figure after the king and a pillar of the Makhzen, a secretive court elite that has often kept the upper hand by nominating government officials and setting key policies.
Himma spearheaded the setting up of the PAM to counter the rising influence of Islamists including the PJD, which won an election lat year that the king had brought forward to prevent a spillover into Morocco of the Arab Spring uprisings.
He quit the PAM in May, 2011, at the height of mass protests demanding that he "degage", or "clear off". After PJD's election win, King Mohammed appointed Himma as royal adviser.
AFP Global News Director Philippe Massonnet urged the Moroccan authorities to reconsider their move against Brouksy.
"The report in question had no motive other than to inform and provide context, with no intention of harming anyone whomsoever," Massonnet said, adding that AFP's Rabat bureau had "the full confidence of the agency's management".
A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said of the case: "France reiterates its attachment to freedom of speech and the exercise of journalism. We have got in touch with the Moroccan authorities to look into the reasons."
The Moroccan state still controls television and journalists run the risk of being imprisoned for their writings. Outspoken publications have been forced out of business, mostly by what they call political pressure on advertisers.
Brouksy, a Moroccan national, was manhandled last month by police as he covered a pro-democracy protest in Rabat, causing him light bleeding.
Morocco ranked 138th in the 2011-2012 global Press Freedom Index of countries compiled by Reporters Sans Frontieres.
The move to withdraw Brouksy's accreditation follows the appointment by the government this week of a committee to draft a new media bill meant to grant the press greater freedoms.
Critics say they doubt the move will deliver tangible results. Authorities have drawn up draft media bills in the past which were later shelved.
(Reporting by Souhail Karam; editing by Andrew Roche)