Morocco: Journalist targeted by authorities faces trial

Moroccan journalist Omar Radi today faces trial after nine months in unlawful pre-trial detention, amid grave concerns about the fairness of proceedings, Amnesty International said today. The organization is calling on the Moroccan authorities to release Omar Radi from pre-trial detention and drop any charges against him which stem from his journalistic work and ensure fair trial for all the parties.  

“There is no justification for the pre-trial detention of Omar Radi for these past nine months and we call for him to be released. Omar Radi has for years faced judicial harassment by the authorities because of his brave journalism and this trial is the latest attempt to silence him,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. 

Omar Radi has for years faced judicial harassment by the authorities because of his brave journalism and this trial is the latest attempt to silence him
Amna Guellali, Amnesty International

Independent journalist Omar Radi is known for his criticism of Morocco’s human rights record and his exposure of corruption. He has frequently faced judicial harassment by the authorities for his journalism and activism. In March 2020, he was given a suspended four-month prison term for a tweet sent the previous year that castigated a court judge over the unfair trial and jailing of Hirak EL-Rif activists. 

In June 2020, Amnesty International released a report which revealed that Omar Radi’s phone had been targeted with sophisticated NSO Group spyware in a manner which could only have come from the authorities. The report received widespread coverage and the authorities denied any unlawful surveillance while simultaneously claiming that Omar Radi was involved in espionage. 

Two days after the release of the report, the judicial police in Casablanca summoned Omar Radi for the first time for interrogation on 24 June. He was later summoned at least eight more times and interrogated for hours each time, initially only on accusations related to suspicion of foreign funding linked to intelligence groups. A rape charge was later introduced following a complaint made by a colleague of his at the journal Le Desk, who accused Omar Radi of assaulting her the night of 12 July 2020.

On the 29 July 2020, the Office of the Prosecutor of the first instance court in Casablanca brought a raft of charges against Omar Radi, including espionage based on his journalistic work and research he conducted for international NGOs, as well as rape and sexual assault, all charges that Omar Radi vehemently denied. He was remanded in the Oukacha prison that same day.

Allegations of sexual violence should always be taken seriously and investigated properly. However, in recent years there have been several cases of sexual offences being brought against vocal critics of the Moroccan government, including independent journalists and activists.

In 2015, authorities prosecuted Hicham Mansouri, a journalist and co-founder of the Moroccan association of Investigative Journalism, for "adultery" and "sexual exploitation." He spent 10 months in prison before being released and choosing exile in France.

In 2019, a Moroccan court of appeal sentenced Taoufik Bouachrine, publisher of Akhbar el-Youm, one of the country’s last opposition newspapers, to 15 years in prison for sexual assault against several women. In its opinion about this case, the United Nations' Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that his trial was marred by due-process violations and considered that Bouachrine's detention forms part of a " judicial harassment attributable to nothing other than his investigative journalism."

Another prominent journalist, from the same newspaper, Akhbar el Yaoum, Hajar Raissouni, was sentenced in 2019 to one year in prison under charges of "abortion" and "having sex outside of marriage." 

The newspaper editor-in-chief Suleiman Raissouni is also detained since 22 June 2020 on sexual assault charges, after a man alleged that he had assaulted him two years earlier. 

The defense witness in the rape case against Omar Radi, independent journalist Imed Stitou, who was present in the same flat at the time of the incident, and who has corroborated Omar Radi's version of the facts, was later indicted as an accomplice of rape. Imed Stitou is also due to stand trial today.

This trial comes as the Moroccan government’s human rights record continues to deteriorate, with the government prosecuting dozens of people over the past two years, including journalists, YouTubers, artists and activists who have expressed opinions critical of the authorities online or offline. 

Background

Omar Radi is an investigative journalist and activist from Morocco. He is a founder and journalist at Le desk, an independent Moroccan publication. He has worked with several national and international media outlets such as Atlantic Radio, Le Journal Hebdomadaire, Telquel and Lakome. Omar’s work focuses on political investigation and the relations between political and economic powers in Morocco.