Morocco on Friday revoked the accreditation of a journalist working for the French news agency AFP after he wrote an article linking the palace to a political party competing in by-elections.
An official statement carried by the state news agency described the AFP article about a parliamentary special election in the northern city of Tangiers as "unprofessional" for carrying allegations that the institution of the monarchy was involved in elections.
"The AFP dispatch carried allegations of the involvement of the monarchy in this electoral contest ... against its position of neutrality and role as an arbitrator," the statement said. Morocco's powerful king, who holds most of the power in the country, is considered to operate above party politics.
The move comes against a backdrop of tightening controls on the freedom of expression, a year after pro-democracy demonstrations forced landmark changes to the constitution.
The Paris-based watchdog Reporters Without Borders called the move a political decision and called for the credentials to be reinstated.
"It is clearly an attack on the independence of the journalist's profession," it said in a statement Friday. "The communications minister uses the withdrawal of accreditation as a weapon against the information professionals to force them to self-censor."
The article described the competition between the Islamist Justice and Development Party, which heads the coalition in power, and the Party of Authenticity and Modernity, which it said had links to the palace.
The party was founded in 2008 by Fouad Ali Himma, a close associate of the king and currently one of his advisers, as a counterweight to the Islamists. The party did well initially, with many politicians defecting to its ranks and was described by State Department cables at the time as a move by the palace to more closely dominate party politics.
It was soundly defeated in November's parliamentary elections by the Islamists, who rode a wave of anti-establishment sentiment during the Arab Spring pro-democracy demonstrations.
AFP Rabat bureau chief Guillaume Klein expressed his hope that the government would "reconsider its decision."
Philippe Lalliot, spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, said France was in contact with Moroccan authorities to learn the reason behind the decision, underscoring French support for "freedom of expression and the liberty of journalists to work."
The journalist, Moroccan national Omar Brouksy, has worked for AFP since 2009 but has had run-ins with authorities in the past. He was attacked and beaten by police in August while covering a small protest against the king's annual ceremony of allegiance and was previously the editor-in-chief of a French-language weekly shut down by the state.
Morocco is ranked 139 out of 179 countries in Reporters Without Borders press freedom index and it has been criticized for legislation allowing the imprisonment of journalists for their writings and attacks on reporters covering social unrest.
Muckraking newspaper editor Rachid Nini was imprisoned for a year for his writings and only released in April. A rapper was sentenced to a year in prison in May for lyrics criticizing the police and in June a blogger was given two years for drug charges, but the sentence is believed to be linked to his writings which criticized the government.
At the time of his sentencing, Reporters Without Borders called it a "a new stage in the Moroccan government's campaign against freedom of expression, in which several bloggers have already been arrested and convicted."