Behind Morocco’s Throne Day, journalists are being persecuted

As Morocco quietly marks the 23rd anniversary on 30 July of King Mohammed VI’s accession to the throne, an event called “Throne Day,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) points out that the situation of Morocco’s media is worse than at any time since he became king in 1999, and calls on the authorities to release imprisoned journalists and abandon all judicial proceedings pending against them.

“The return to the practices of the darkest years in Morocco is disturbing and unacceptable,” said Khaled Drareni, RSF’s representative in North Africa. “It contradicts the image of respectability that the government likes to present to the outside world and, above all, it runs counter to the legitimate aspirations of Moroccans to exercise their freedoms, including press freedom, in an effective way. We call on the authorities to free imprisoned journalists, quash their convictions, especially those of Souleiman Raissouni and Omar Radi, and drop any judicial proceedings that are still pending.

Media freedom is more precarious now than at any time since the most oppressive years under King Hassan II. Three journalists – Taoufik Bouachrine, Souleiman Raissouni and Omar Radi – are currently in prison. Officially, they were jailed for non-political offences but in reality they are being persecuted because of their work as journalists, because the independent and critical tone of their journalism displeases the authorities.

The editor of the now closed newspaper Akhbar Al-Yaoum, Bouachrine is serving a 15-year prison sentence – upheld by the Court of Cassation in September 2021 – on charges of human trafficking, abuse of power for sexual purposes, rape and attempted rape. He has always denied the charges, which his defence portrayed as yet another attempt to put pressure on his newspaper. He was previously prosecuted in 2009 for a cartoon deemed to have disrespected the royal family and Moroccan flag, in 2015 for an article that damaged “Morocco’s reputation” and in 2018 for “defaming” two ministers.

Journalists backed by RSF and human rights NGOs

The cases of Raissouni and Radi are even more emblematic of the dramatic plight of independent journalists in Morocco. Raissouni was sentenced to five years in prison by a Casablanca court in July 2021 at the end of a trial marked by many flagrant irregularities. His conviction – on a clearly spurious sexual assault charge he has always denied – was upheld on appeal in February 2022. Assisted by RSF and other human rights organisations, he is awaiting the outcome of his appeal to Morocco’s court of cassation.

When Raissouni was suddenly transferred to Ain Borja prison in May, guards tore up many of his notes and books and he was placed in isolation on arrival in the new prison. RSF reacted by condemning the use of methods that, yet again, had violated the rights of a detained journalist.

A respected investigative reporter and human rights defender who completes his second year in detention today, Radi is serving a six-year sentence on rape and espionage charges that was upheld on appeal on 4 March. A colleague, Imad Stitou, was sentenced to 12 months in prison (of which six months were suspended) in connection with the rape case, but avoided imprisonment by leaving Morocco four months before his sentence was confirmed. He is convinced that the sole reason for his being charged was his refusal to submit to pressure from the police to testify against Radi.

Land grabbing and corruption

Jailed for the first time in December 2019 for criticising a judge’s decision to jail participants in the so-called “Hirak” protests in northern Morocco’s Rif region in 2016 and 2017, Radi has been in the monarchy’s sights for years. According to his family and colleagues, the authorities never forgave him for the opinions he expressed in the media and on social media during the two years prior to his arrest.

He also did investigative reporting on the seizure of public land by speculators and was responsible for exposing the so-called “state servants” corruption scandal, in which around 100 people, including high level officials, were implicated.

In December 2019, he was freed within a few days as a result of pressure by RSF and many other organisations, and was finally given a suspended sentence of four months in prison. But the persecution did not stop. In June 2020, Amnesty International reported that 

the Moroccan authorities had used Pegasus, the spyware sold by the Israeli company NSO Group, to hack into Radi’s phone and monitor his activities. He was jailed for the second time the following month.

A campaign is being waged both in Morocco and abroad for the release of Raissouni and Radi, who have always insisted that they are being persecuted for their opinions and their journalism, including their coverage of social unrest and corruption. In Raissouni’s case, it is his criticism of the monarchy’s predominance in the economy that seems to have caused offence.

Other Moroccan journalists have displayed great courage in the face of a regime that tolerates no independent media. The latest, eloquent example is Hanane Bakour, who has long been in the government’s sights and who received a court summons on 27 June after Prime Minister Aziz Akhannouch’s party, the RNI, filed a complaint against her over a Facebook post. She often uses social media to criticise the government’s economic decisions and, with the help of hashtags, to brand the prime minister’s measures as antisocial. RSF denounced the summons as unacceptable judicial intimidation.

Interminable proceedings

Two other journalists, Ali Anouzla and Maati Monjib, have been subjected to seemingly endless judicial proceedings although neither is currently detained. Anouzla is being harassed for investigating the monarchy’s budget and royal family expenses. As a result of his editorials on this taboo subject, preposterous charges of supporting “terrorist movements” have been brought against him. RSF has followed his case closely ever since his judicial problems resumed in 2017.

The founder of the Lakome.com news website, Anouzla made the headlines in September 2013 when he embarrassed the monarchy by revealing that Daniel Galván, a Spanish citizen convicted and imprisoned in Morocco for raping children, had been released by royal pardon. After initially denying he was aware of the gravity of the charges against Galván, the king backpedalled and rescinded the pardon. Shortly thereafter, Anouzla was arrested on a trumped-up terrorism charge and spent five weeks in detention.

One of Morocco’s leading human rights defenders as well as a respected newspaper columnist, Monjib has also paid dearly for his role in defending human rights and press freedom. In October 2015, he went on hunger strike for 21 days in protest against a ban on foreign travel that was preventing him from attending international conferences – a ban imposed because he had been charged with endangering state security. 

After being jailed on 20 December 2020, Monjib was sentenced to a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 dirhams (1,400 euros) by a Rabat court on 27 January 2021 on trumped-up charges of “fraud” and “undermining state security.” His lawyers and support committee denounced not only the sentence itself but also the fact that it was passed at a hearing held in his absence and that his lawyers were not even notified that the hearing was taking place, let alone invited to attend.

“This conviction is doubly unjust because neither my fellow defendants nor I have ever threatened ‘internal state security’ or committed any other crime except exercise our right to freedom of expression and association,” Monjib told RSF at the time.

Monjib began a hunger strike in protest again the sentence on 4 March 2021 and was finally granted a provisional release after not eating for 20 days.

Image
135/180
Score : 45.42
Publié le 29.07.2022