Morocco: Heavy sentences upheld for journalists Soulaiman Raissouni and Omar Radi

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Paris-Genève, 17 March 2022 – In the space of two weeks, journalist Imad Stitou, as well as his arbitrarily imprisoned colleagues Soulaiman Raissouni and Omar Radi, were sentenced to five and six years in prison respectively at their appeal trial. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (International Federation for Human Rights - FIDH-OMCT) deplores these unfair sentences and calls on the Moroccan authorities to immediately release them and all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the country.

On 23 February 2022, the Casablanca Court of Appeal sentenced Mr Soulaiman Raissouni to five years’ imprisonment and 100,000 dirhams (approximately €9,365) in compensation to the complainant for "indecent assault with violence and sequestration," thus confirming the judgement handed down against him in first instance by the Casablanca Court of Appeal on 9 July 2021.

On 3 March 2022, Mr Omar Radi and his colleague Mr Imad Stitou also saw the sentences pronounced against them in first instance by the Criminal Chamber of the Casablanca Court of Appeal on 19 July 2021, confirmed by the Casablanca Court of Appeal. Omar Radi was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment and 200,000 dirhams (approximately 18,730 euros) in compensation to the complainant for "rape and indecent assault on a woman with violence" and "attacking the internal and external security of the State". Imad Stitou, prosecuted for complicity in the "sexual assault" component of the case, was sentenced to one year in prison, including six months for "failure to report a crime to the authorities" and "failure to assist a person in danger", and ordered to pay 20,000 dirhams (about 1,870 euros) of the total 200,000 dirhams compensation awarded to the complainant.

Soulaiman Raissouni’s lawyers, like those of Omar Radi and Imad Stitou, have appealed these decisions to the Moroccan Court of Cassation. Pending further proceedings, Mr Raissouni and Mr Radi remain arbitrarily detained in Oukacha prison in Casablanca. Imad Stitou remains under provisional release pending a final verdict, and has left Morocco.

Raissouni, Radi and Stitou are Moroccan journalists known for their human rights work. Omar Radi, who has won several awards for his work [1], famously covered the detentions and convictions of the Rif Hirak activists in April 2019. Soulaiman Raissouni is the former editor-in-chief of the independent Arabic-language newspaper Akhbar Al Yaoum, known for his editorials critical of the performance of the Moroccan security services and prosecution authorities. Imad Stitou is an independent journalist who covers human rights issues.

The Observatory recalls that Soulaiman Raissouni was arrested on 22 May 2020 in Casablanca and remanded in Oukacha prison for "indecent assault with violence and sequestration" following an anonymous message published on social networks accusing him of attempted rape, followed by a complaint against him, accusations which he has always refuted. Omar Radi was arrested on 29 July 2020 and placed in preventive detention in Oukacha prison for "receiving foreign funds with the aim of undermining the internal security of the State" and for "rape and indecent assault of a woman with violence." These charges stem, respectively, from an investigation for alleged espionage, in which he is suspected of being involved "in a case of obtaining funding from abroad, in connection with intelligence services," and from a rape complaint filed against him with the Casablanca Royal Gendarmerie for events that took place on the night of 12-13 July 2020. The two journalists, in protest against their arbitrary detention and to claim their right to a fair trial, each went on hunger strike during their detention, which led to a significant deterioration in their health. In addition, during their detention, Mr Radi and Mr Raissouni did not have access to proper medical care and were deprived of family visits for several weeks and for various reasons.

Throughout their trial and since their arrest, the proceedings against Soulaiman Raissouni and Omar Radi have been marred by multiple irregularities and clear violations of the right to a fair trial, such as the refusal to transport Soulaiman Raissouni to court to attend his hearing, the non-admission of defence witnesses and of any evidence presented by the defence, and the non-respect of the presumption of innocence.

The Observatory also notes with concern that the trials of these three journalists take place in a context of increased repression against journalists, human rights defenders and all dissenting voices in Morocco, and violate the fundamental right to freedom of expression as enshrined in several international instruments, including Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Observatory strongly rejects the unjust convictions of Soulaiman Raissouni, Omar Radi, and Imad Stitou, which appear to be aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities as journalists, and urges the Moroccan authorities to immediately release Mr Raissouni and Mr Radi and to drop all charges against the three journalists.

The Observatory also calls on the authorities to put an end to all acts of harassment against all journalists and human rights defenders in Morocco, and to ensure in all circumstances that they can exercise their right to freedom of expression and carry out their legitimate activities unimpeded and without fear of reprisals.

The Observatory, a partnership between FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), aims to protect human rights defenders who are victims of violations and to provide them with the most concrete assistance possible. OMCT and FIDH are members of, the European Union mechanism for human rights defenders implemented by international civil society.

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