Analysis. Two Moroccan journalists who have distinguished themselves for their criticism of the Moroccan government began a hunger strike on April 9. They have been held in preventive detention for eight and ten months respectively.

Protests in Morocco demand the release of imprisoned journalists

“These are hard times for the freedom of expression and the press in Morocco. The king and his entourage have a serious problem with the freedom of information,” said French-Moroccan historian Maâti Monjib, released on bail at the end of March after three months of preventive detention for alleged money laundering and 19 days of hunger strike.

Since April 14, more than 120 journalists have signed a petition expressing their “great concern” for the fate of Omar Radi and Soulaiman Raissouni, denouncing the “repeated violation of the presumption of innocence” and the “impunity enjoyed by the defamation press in Morocco.”

Omar Radi and Soulaiman Raissouni, two journalists who have distinguished themselves for their activism and their criticism of the Moroccan government, have begun a hunger strike on April 9, in the prison of Oukacha in Casablanca, where they have been held in preventive detention for eight and ten months respectively.

Both are demanding “a provisional release and a fair trial,” after their hearings have been continuously postponed by the Moroccan justice system.

In recent weeks—most recently on Saturday, in front of the Rabat Parliament—numerous demonstrations of support have been organized by activists demanding their urgent release “given their worsening health conditions.”

In a recent appeal, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International (AI) and Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) denounced the numerous imprisonments of activists, often with the use of “defamatory press”—scoops linked to information provided by the security services—which have lately played a key role in defaming and imprisoning numerous activists and journalists, through leaks related to moral failings, real or alleged.

Soulaiman Raissouni, columnist and editor-in-chief of the daily Akhbar Al Yaoum—an online newspaper recently closed due to bankruptcy and often targeted by judicial authorities because it was considered one of the last strongholds of the free press in Morocco—was prosecuted for “assault, violence and kidnapping a man” in 2018, following allegations in an anonymous Facebook post.

Omar Radi, a journalist known for his activism on the issues of inequality, corruption and human rights violations in Morocco, was arrested on July 29, 2020, on charges of “espionage and danger to state security” (due to some research on corruption in Morocco conducted for international NGOs) and also “rape and sexual violence.”

“We affirm the imperative duty to carefully investigate allegations of sexual violence and hold the perpetrators accountable,” said the joint statement from HRW, AI and RSF. “However, we are concerned that the indictment of the two journalists comes in a context where several politicians, activists and independent journalists have been arrested, tried or jailed on dubious charges of sexual violence in recent years.”

Associations such as Attac-Maroc, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), and Khmissa, a Moroccan feminist collective that defends women’s rights and political freedoms, have also recently denounced “the Moroccan authorities’ exploitation of allegations of sexual crimes, even in relation to consensual relationships, for the purpose of discrediting or imprisoning dissidents.”

In its annual report, Amnesty denounces the use of the justice system and defamatory charges against at least twenty journalists and as many activists and bloggers in the last two years.

The same report also condemns the continued violation of human rights and the use of torture, physical and psychological, against Sahrawi activists imprisoned in Moroccan prisons, as well as Nasser Zefzafi and Nabil Ahamjikdi, leaders of the RIF protest movement.

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