Open judicial season on Moroccan journalists
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns what it regards as a dangerous manipulation of the judicial system in Morocco, where three distinct criminal cases are to be heard against four prominent journalists in the space of less than ten days.
This ten-day offensive comes just before the start of the month of Ramadan, when a judicial truce is usually observed.
The four journalists – Omar Radi, Imad Stitou, Maati Monjib and Suleiman Raissouni – are all critics of the government who have been targeted by the authorities for years. They are facing sentences of up to ten years in prison on sex charges or for allegedly threatening state security.
“These judicial cases bear all the hallmarks of reprisals against journalists and media outlets that are disliked by the authorities,” said Souhaieb Khayat, the head of RSF’s North Africa desk, voicing alarm at this “dangerous manipulation of the Moroccan justice system.”
Omar Radi and Imad Stitou, symbols of judicial harassment
Omar Radi, an investigative reporter and human right defender, and Imad Stitou, a freelancer who specialises in covering politics, will face up to ten years in prison when they appear in court on 6 April. The target of constant judicial harassment for years because of his coverage of sensitive issues, Radi has been held since 29 July 2020 on charges of “indecent assault with violence” and raping a young women journalist, with whom he has always said the relationship was consensual.
Initially questioned as a witness who confirmed Radi’s claim, Stitou began being treated as suspect during the investigation, and is now to be tried with Radi on charges of participating in the sexual assault and the rape.
Maati Monjib, persecuted press freedom defender
On 8 April, a court will hear newspaper columnist Maati Monjib’s appeal against the sentence of a year in prison and fine of 15,000 dirhams (1,400 euros) that he received from a court in Rabat on 27 January on trumped-up charges of “fraud” and “undermining state security.”
A well-known human rights and press freedom defender, Monjib was jailed on 20 December 2020 and was released on 23 March after 20 days on hunger strike in protest against the iniquity of this sentence, including the fact that the trial was held in his absence and his lawyers were not even notified that it was taking place, let alone invited to attend.
The judicial authorities are also due to decide in the next few days whether to prosecute him on another patently spurious charge, one of money-laundering, the charge on which he was arrested in December.
Suleiman Raissouni – political trial
The editor of the daily newspaper Akhbar Al Yaoum, Suleiman Raissouni was due to go on trial in Casablanca on 30 March, but the start of his trial has been postponed until 15 April. He is facing a possible ten-year jail sentence under article 485 of the penal code on a charge of “Indecent assault with violence and kidnapping” that a young activist in the LGBTQ community brought against him. Detained provisionally since 22 May 2020. Raissouni insists that he is innocent and that the case is a political reprisal for his articles, which are often very critical of the monarchy and the security services. He latest request for a provisional release, filed on 30 March, was refused.
Morocco is ranked 133rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.