August 3, 2021

In Morocco, the conviction of Omar Radi, symbol of a muzzled press

The telescoping of calendars could not be more symbolic. Moroccan journalist Omar Radi was sentenced, Monday, July 19, to six years in prison by a criminal chamber of the Casablanca Court of Appeal, the same day that an international consortium of newspapers (including The world) revealed the extent of the hacking of phones by a dozen governments, a surveillance of which Mr. Radi had himself been the target. The verdict against the journalist in the context of a double case of “rape” and “attack on the internal and external security of the State”, arising in particular from “Foreign funding in relation to intelligence services”, is part of a legal offensive by the authorities against freedom of expression activists in Morocco.

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On July 9, another journalist, Soulaimane Raissouni, former editor-in-chief of the Arabic-language daily Akhbar Al-Yaoum (closed in March), had also been sentenced to five years in prison for “rape with violence and forcible confinement”. According to lawyers and supporters of MM. Radi and Raissouni, the rights of the defense were not respected in the course of procedures instrumentalizing cases of morals to silence critical voices in Morocco. “Apparently rigged prosecutions against critical journalists figure prominently in the Moroccan authorities’ handbook to stifle any challenge,” denounced, in September 2020, Human Rights Watch (HWR), during the first hearing of Mr. Radi before an investigating judge.

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Aged 35, the journalist had distinguished himself by investigations into scandals of land theft, collusion between the business community and ruling circles, the repression of the Hirak (movement) of the Rif in 2017 or the judicial harassment against critical intellectuals. Passed through the Weekly newspaper (today closed), Tel that, Media24 or Lakome (also closed), it contributed to the Desk, the first Moroccan investigation site, when he was placed, in July 2020, in preventive detention in Oukacha prison in Casablanca.

Rape charge

The charge of “undermining the external security of the State” referred to « intelligences » that Omar Radi would have tied « with foreign agents », in order to « harm Morocco’s diplomatic situation ». The accusation also targets the research work he carried out on behalf of the British economic intelligence firm Good Governance Group (G3). In either case, counsel for Mr. Radi argued that the « contacts » of Mr. Radi did not fall within the scope of espionage activities. The investigation of these “Foreign funding” was opened – coincidentally – the day after the publication, on June 22, 2020, of an Amnesty International report claiming that Mr. Radi’s mobile phone was hacked in 2019 by the Pegasus software of the Israeli company NSO .

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