Human rights groups have alleged that the six-year prison sentence given to Moroccan journalist Omar Radi is politically motivated. Radi was sentenced by a court in Casablanca on Monday, July 19 after being convicted on charges of sexual assault and espionage.
Amnesty International in a statement called the trial proceedings “flawed” and “not justice”, demanding “a fair retrial in line with international standards”. Radi’s colleague Imad Stitou was also convicted for “participation in rape” and sentenced to one year in prison of which six months were suspended. Radi has denied all charges against him, saying that he is a victim of people “who consider themselves above the law. This prosecution is motivated by revenge, not by a quest for the truth.”
Radi was arrested in July 2020 and kept in solitary confinement in pre-trial detention for almost a year. Along with sexual assault and espionage, he was also charged with ‘harming the internal and external security of Morocco’ and receiving ‘foreign funds in exchange for providing intelligence information to a third party’. Several human rights and press freedom groups have alleged that the case against Radi is an example of government retaliation against journalists who are critical of its policies and human rights violations. They claim that Radi’s persecution is an indicator of the trend of the government trying to crack down on press freedoms in the country.
Radi’s lawyer, Ali Amar, in a statement said that the charges against his client are lacking in evidence and that they will appeal the verdict. Both Radi and Stitou have also been ordered by the court to pay the sexual assault victim a sum equivalent of USD 22,300.
Chief of press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Christophe Deloire, called the trial proceedings against Radi as being “marred with irregularities”. Radi is among the prominent journalists in Morocco writing against government corruption and abuse of human rights. He is the founder of the independent news outlet Le Desk. In a similar case just weeks earlier, a Casablanca court had sentenced another independent journalist, Soulimane Raissouni, to five years in prison on charges of sexual assault. Raissouni has also consistently denied the charges against him and has been on hunger strike for 90 days to protest his conviction and prison sentence.
Both Radi and Raissouni’s names have been listed among 189 journalists around the world who were spied on using the Israeli-made Pegasus hacking software. They are among the 30 Moroccan journalists who were targeted with hacking attacks by the government. The Moroccan government has rejected all spying allegations, saying that it has “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices.”
Morocco has been consistently sliding down the annual World Press Freedom Index rankings released by the RSF, coming in at 136 in 2021, three places down from 133 in 2020. Along with regional rival Algeria, which has been placed at 146, Morocco has been criticized by rights groups for the persecution of journalists.