Website editor’s jail sentence quadrupled on appeal
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by yesterday’s decision by an appeal court in Al-Hoceïma, in northern Morocco’s troubled Rif region, to quadruple the three-month jail sentence that website editor Hamid El Mahdaoui received in July for allegedly “inciting a banned demonstration” in the city. RSF’s concern is all the greater because he is facing a second trial on a charge of “endangering state security” and because he has begun a hunger strike.
The editor of the Badil.info news website, Mahdaoui was arrested in Al-Hoceïma on 20 July after going there to cover a peaceful demonstration that had been banned by the authorities. He was sentenced five days later to three months in prison and a fine of 20,000 dirhams (1,800 euros).
Shortly after yesterday’s appeal court decision increasing his jail term to 12 months, his wife, Bouchra El Khounchafi, announced that he had gone on hunger strike “to denounce an unfair trial, the violation of freedom of expression and non-respect for human rights.”
“The appeal court’s decision is incomprehensible,” RSF said. “Videos were made available to the court. It had hard evidence of his innocence. We call on the Moroccan judicial system to abandon all the proceedings against Hamid El Mahdaoui and to free him at once. He just did his job as a journalist who found himself at the centre of events.”
Mahdaoui is meanwhile awaiting trial in Casablanca on a charge of “failing to report a crime endangering state security,” which carries a possible two to five-year jail sentence. The start of the trial has been postponed until 3 October. His lawyer told RSF that this “absurd” charge was based on nothing more than a phone call Mahdaoui had received.
Badil.info’s editor 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 has been the subject of at least ten legal proceedings of various kinds, including defamation actions.
In July 2015, he was given a four-month suspended prison sentence for articles revealing that police tortured an activist, Karim Lachkar, in an Al-Hoceïma police station in May 2014. He was also fined and ordered to pay damages. He was convicted again in June 2016 for an article accusing the justice minister of claiming excessive travel expenses.
Morocco is ranked 133rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.