One Morocco’s leading newspapers has been ordered to pay four judges more than £100,000 each after it mistakenly reported that a judge had been present at a gay “wedding” in the city of town of Ksar el-Kbir.

Last November Al Massae published the first reports of an alleged gay wedding party in the town and said that a local judge attended.

The paper did not name him, so all four local judges sued. It later emerged that a man with the same name as one of the judges was arrested.

On its website Al Massae reported:

“The court also fined 120,000 dirhams (£8,215) for the benefit of the public coffers, although the news published in November of last year did not mention one of the agents (of the crown ie: judges) named.

“(this is) another indication of the attack on public freedoms in our country and retreats known to Morocco in the field of human rights.”

Six men, ranging in age from 20 to 61 years old, were arrested by police between November 23rd and 25th 2007, after a video circulated online, including on YouTube, purporting to show a private party, allegedly including the men.

Following the arrests, hundreds of men and women marched through the streets of Ksar el-Kbir, denouncing the men’s alleged actions and calling for their punishment.

At trial, the prosecution produced no evidence that any of the defendants had violated Article 489 of the criminal code, which provides prison terms for people who commit “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex.”

The prosecution produced no evidence that any of the defendants had violated Article 489, which provides prison terms for people who commit “lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex.”

The court sentenced three defendants to six months in prison and two defendants to four months; it sentenced the sixth, who it also convicted of the unauthorised sale of alcohol, to 10 months.

The editor of Al Massae said the massive fines, totalling six million Moroccan dirhams (£409,000) was an attempt by the court to silence the press.

“This is the first time since Morocco’s independence 52 years ago that a court has sentenced a newspaper to such a hefty fine,” said Tawfik Bouechrine, according to Reuters.

“The government is hiding behind the court to close the newspaper. It is sending a message to the media that it will not tolerate press freedom.”

A Tangiers appeals court has upheld the conviction of the six men under Article 489 of Morocco’s penal code despite the video showing no evidence of sexual acts.

Amnesty International has called for their release.

“Rather than just reduce the length of the prison sentences, the Moroccan authorities should have released all of the defendants,” said Amnesty International UK Campaigner Kim Manning-Cooper.

“The use of laws to imprison individuals for same-sex relations is a grave violation of their fundamental human rights.”