Arrested while filming a banned protest in Hoceima, in northern Morocco’s Rif region, on 20 July 2017, Mahdaoui had been tried for the past nine months along with 53 people held in connection with their alleged role in last year’s so-called “Hirak” wave of protests in the Rif region.
Mahdaoui was accused of failing to alert the police after being contacted by a Moroccan based in the Netherlands who told him arms were being sent to the Hirak protesters. Mahdaoui responded that he did not notify the police because he had not taken the information seriously. As well as giving him a three-year jail term, the court also fined him 3,000 dirhams.
“We are deeply shocked by this absurd verdict and harsh sentence,” said Souhaieb Khayati, the head of RSF’s North Africa bureau. “Just days ago, the Casablanca court separated Hamid el Mahdaoui’s case from those of the Hirak defendants, raising hopes that he would be freed. The authorities are persecuting a journalist who just did his job. Reporting the news is not a crime.”
The court announced three days ago that it would handle Mahdaoui’s case separately from those of the other 53 defendants. As that decision had raised hopes of an imminent acquittal, many in the court house were stunned by last night’s sentence. Speaking to journalists, his lawyer described it as “cruel” and said they would appeal.
Mahdaoui had established himself as a much-followed figure on social networks. Well known for his criticism of the authorities and for his YouTube videos commenting on news events, he was already sentenced to a year in prison on 12 September 2017 on a charge of “inciting a banned demonstration.”
Morocco is ranked 135th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.