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Dissident Moroccan journalist ends hunger after minister says passport will be renewed

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RABAT, Morocco — A dissident Moroccan journalist on Tuesday ended a monthlong hunger strike protesting his treatment by the government after an official said he could get a new passport in three days, a member of his support committee said.

Ali Mrabet, named by Reporters Without Borders one of 100 "information heroes" in 2014 for his work, went on a hunger strike in front of the U.N. headquarters in Geneva on June 24 because he said Moroccan authorities were preventing him from working by not renewing his identification papers.

Interior Minister Mohammed Hassad told journalists Monday that Mrabet could get a new passport in Geneva in three days.

Support committee member Omar Brousky said the group then persuaded him to end his hunger strike. Mrabet has been hospitalized in Geneva, Brousky said. He added that Mrabet would now return to Morocco and attempt to work once more.

Mrabet was jailed in 2003 for "undermining respect of the king" and then banned from journalism for a decade in 2005 for writing sympathetically about Western Saharans living in Algerian camps.

After the ban was lifted in April, he attempted to restart his satirical weekly "Demain" but found that he lacked the necessary paperwork, a certificate of residence, to renew his national ID and passport.

The government maintained that he resides in Barcelona rather than the Moroccan coastal city of Tetouan, a charge Mrabet vigorously disputes.

An open letter signed by international writers and activists, including Nobel Literature laureate John Maxwell Coetzee, was sent to King Mohammed VI, and activists protested Friday in front of the Moroccan parliament.

Most of Morocco's print and broadcast media strictly follow official red lines — avoiding criticism of the king, the country's policies in the Western Sahara or Islam.

Many independent-minded journalists have gone online instead, but in 2014, news website Lakome.com was shut down after its editor was briefly charged with abetting terrorism by writing about an al-Qaida video.

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