Moroccan journalist must be freed at once, says UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomes the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s call for Moroccan journalist Souleiman Raissouni’s immediate release on the grounds that his detention for the past two and a half years has been accompanied by major human rights violations and is therefore arbitrary. He was sentenced to five years in prison in February.

« The UN working group’s opinion, branding Souleiman Raissouni’s detention as arbitrary, has thwarted the Moroccan authorities’ attempts to fabricate a case against him. Its conclusions are all the more important because this journalist is being deprived of his documents and personal effects in prison, which has added cruelty to the arbitrary nature of his detention. Souleiman Raissouni must be freed without delay.

Khaled Drareni
RSF’s North Africa representative

Imprisoned since May 2020, the former editor of the Arabic-language newspaper Akhbar Al Yaoumwas sentenced on appeal in February to five years in prison for an alleged “sexual assault” on a young LGBT+ activist – a charge that he and his support committee deny.

In the opinion published on 10 October, the UN Working Group said it considered that Raissouni’s arrest and detention had no legal basis, that they were the result of his use of a fundamental freedom – the freedom of expression – and that his right to a fair trial was violated. The Working Group therefore called on the Moroccan government to “take the necessary measures to remedy the situation of Souleiman Raissouni without delay and to make it compatible with the applicable international standards, in particular those set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].”

The Working Group said that “taking into account all the circumstances of the case, including the risk of damage to his health, the appropriate measure would be to release Souleiman Raissouni immediately and to grant him the right to obtain reparation, in particular, in the form of a compensation in accordance with international law.”

The UN experts said they thought the real reason for the Raissouni's arrest and detention was the publication of articles critical of the authorities and not the sexual offences on which he was convicted. In Morocco, “journalists, including Mr. Raissouni, are targeted for exercising their freedom of expression,” they said.

The Working Group also referred to a pro-government media conspiracy against Raissouni well before his arrest, in which “news sites close to the intelligence services reportedly called for Mr. Raissouni’s arrest, in particular Chouf TV and Barlamane, which are often said to be involved in defaming political opponents and journalists.” Such methods are frequently used to attack dissenting voices in Morocco, especially those with a reputation for credibility and independence.

In a statement issued on 31 January, the Moroccan government sidestepped all of the Working Group’s specific accusations, simply claiming that Morocco’s constitution and legislation fully enshrine the freedoms of expression and opinion and guarantee their free exercise.

The Working Group’s opinion has been published at a time of growing concern about Raissouni’s worsening mental and physical health, which were badly affected by his hunger strike from April to August 2021. After being mistreated during his sudden transfer from Casablanca to Ain Borja prison on 25 May and being placed in solitary confinement on arrival, Raissouni decided to cut off all contact with the outside world, including with his family and his lawyers.

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