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UN concerned about arbitrary arrest and prolonged pretrial detention of human rights defenders in Morocco 

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News briefing  

Geneva, 26 September 2021  

Translated and edited by: The Committee for Justice 

UN experts expressed their grave concern at the prolonged arbitrary pretrial detention and charges against Moroccan journalists and human rights defenders Soulaimane Raissouni; Which are related to their journalistic work and human rights activism. 

The case of Omar Radi: 

In a memorandum sent to the Moroccan government on July 26, 2021, which has not yet been responded to, the experts explained that Omar Radi, an investigative journalist who has worked for many national and international media, and a human rights defender whose work has included addressing issues of corruption and other human rights violations. Between June 22 and July 28, 2020, he was summoned and questioned more than 10 times at least by the National Judicial Police Brigade for allegedly “undermining national security by receiving foreign funds from and cooperating with intelligence agencies”. On July 28, he was questioned on charges of sexual assault and rape on the night of July 12 to 13, 2020, in which Radi claimed that the relationship was consensual.  

The experts added that on July 29, 2020, Radi have been detained in Ain Sebaa prison in Casablanca pending investigations into the double charges against him of “indecent assault with violence and rape”, based on Articles 485 and 486 of the Moroccan Penal Code, and “receiving foreign funds with the aim of harming the national security of the state,” also based on Articles 191 and 206 of the Penal Code. And that in the event that these charges are proven to be true, the sentence could be up to 10 years in prison, although there was no apparent connection, the two cases were said to have been heard together under the same number, which was reported as an unusual procedure.  

The experts stated that Radi had his hearings postponed five times, and during the same period, his lawyers submitted five requests for temporary release, mainly for medical reasons, all of which were rejected without justification. 

The experts indicated that on January 21, 2021, i.e. after 175 days of detention without trial, Radi went on a 48-hour hunger strike to protest against his arbitrary arrest and to demand his temporary release. On April 9, 2021, he also went on strike for the second time in protest against his arbitrary arrest, the lack of a fair trial against him and the conditions of his detention. 

The case of Soulaimane Raissouni: 

Soulaimane Raissouni, is an independent journalist and editor-in-chief of the daily Akhbar Al-Youm, one of the last Arabic-language newspapers that ceased its activities on March 16, 2021. Raissouni published opinion polls on corruption cases and the Moroccan intelligence services. He is also a human rights defender who has worked for several cultural and human rights organizations, contributed to public debates on freedom of opinion and expression and supported journalists related to Moroccan justice.  

The experts said that on May 22, 2020, it was reported that Raissouni was arrested outside his home without knowing the reasons for his arrest and placing him in police custody, and the arrest was filmed and broadcast on the electronic media, Chouf TV.  

The experts added that on May 25, 2020, Raissouni reportedly held his first hearing before the Public Prosecutor, who reportedly opened a preliminary investigation based on a post on the Facebook page of a person calling himself Adam Muhammad. The latter claimed that he was raped in 2018, but did not specify the name of his alleged rapist or the exact date of the facts. 

Experts reported that Raissouni was held in solitary confinement for 11 months out of the thirteen months in which he was arrested, without contacting other people inside the prison. During the same period, his lawyers reportedly submitted 10 requests for provisional release, all of which were reportedly rejected without the investigative judge having sufficient reason to refuse. 

The experts noted that on April 8, 2021, Raissouni was said to have started an indefinite hunger strike and thirst strike, in protest against his arbitrary arrest, the humiliating conditions of his detention (isolation), and against the systematic postponement of his trial. He has reportedly lost more than 32 kilos since his arrest. 

The experts explained that although Raissouni resumed drinking fluids after six days, his condition reportedly continued to deteriorate, as he suffers from chronic high blood pressure, can no longer walk or speak, and was unable to defend himself during his trial in May 18 and June 3.   

Use of moral accusations against activists: 

In their memo, the experts stressed that in recent years, many journalists who criticize the Moroccan authorities and political opponents have been charged with crimes against morals, charges that have grave and lasting social consequences for the people involved, regardless of the outcome of their trial, noting their concerns about what could indicate a tendency to use and widely publicize these accusations in the media while trials continue, to discredit and ultimately silence critical voices.    

The experts also expressed their serious concerns about allegations regarding the conditions of detention of Radi and Raissouni, which, if proven to be true, would not meet international standards, as prolonged preventive detention and solitary confinement, which should be exceptional measures, became prolonged, as well as the refusal to grant them provisional release and the difficulties in preparing their defense amount to a form of harassment and intimidation against journalists and human rights defenders in the country, in retaliation for their critical writings and participation in human rights issues in Morocco, with the aim of silencing and discrediting them. 

UN demands from the Moroccan government: 

The experts called on the Moroccan government to provide information on the legal grounds for the preventive detention against Radi and Raissouni, as well as the factual and legal grounds that justify postponing their trial for nearly a year, and explain how these grounds comply with international human rights norms and standards.  

The experts also called on Morocco to provide information on measures taken to guarantee the right of journalists and human rights defenders to all fair trial guarantees, including the presumption of innocence and an independent, impartial and transparent judicial investigation to assess the charges against them, and to explain how these measures comply with international human rights norms and standards. 

At the conclusion of their memorandum, the experts asked the Moroccan government to clarify the current health status of Radi and Raissouni, and to indicate the measures that have been taken to ensure that the two detainees receive appropriate medical care.  

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