Bouachrine had been held since February on charges of human trafficking, abuse of power for sexual purposes, rape and attempted rape. The trial, which began on 8 March, was held behind closed doors and, in a verdict handed down on the night of 9 November, the court convicted him of sexual assaulting a number of women and dropped the other charges.
Many aspects of the trial contributed to the doubts surrounding the case. It was expedited at the prosecution’s request. Plaintiffs were pressured by the authorities and some denied making complaints against Bouachrine. One was close to a government official he had criticized. And the court rejected defence requests for alternative expert evidence.
“This case seems to indicate a desire to persecute a journalist who had fallen foul of the authorities in the past in connection with his journalism,” RSF said. “The conduct of the trial prevents us from ruling out the hypothesis that it was trumped up or at least exploited in order to further discredit him as a journalist. The verdict is marred by doubt.”
Bouachrine was prosecuted in 2009 for a cartoon that allegedly disrespected the royal family and national flag, in 2015 for an article deemed to have undermined “Morocco’s reputation,” and in early 2018 for defaming two government ministers.
Morocco is ranked 135th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.