In July 2021, the Casablanca Court of Appeal sentenced prominent Moroccan journalist Soulaiman Raissouni to five years imprisonment and a fine of 100,000 Moroccan Dirhams ($11,000) following a trial marred by irregularities, with the sentence handed down in the absence of Raissouni and his defense team. Raissouni remained in arbitrary pre-trial detention for months before his case was referred to court. His health condition has deteriorated due to his prolonged hunger strike over his unjust detention and lack of adequate medical care. On October 27, 2021, the court postponed his appeal hearing to November 3, 2021. 

PEN believes that Raissouni’s conviction followed an unfair trial and that he is being targeted because of the content of his writings. PEN is also concerned about Raissouni’s physical and psychological well-being.

TAKE ACTION

Please send appeals:

  • Urging the Moroccan authorities to ensure Soulaiman Raissouni’s right to a fair trial and to immediately release him pending the result of his appeal;
  • Calling on the Moroccan authorities to ensure Raissouni’s access to regular family visits, lawyers, and adequate medical care pending his release;
  • Calling on the Moroccan authorities to end the persecution and detention of journalists and writers simply on the basis of the content of their writing or alleged affiliations, and to immediately release all those imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Send appeals to:

1. Aziz Akhannouch
Role: Head of Government
Address: Palais Royal Touarga, Rabat 10070, Morocco
Twitter: twitter.com/chefgov_ma

2. Nasser Bourita
Role: Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccan Expatriates
Address: 7 Street F. Roosevelt, Rabat, Morocco
Fax: 05 37 55 66 77
Contact: diplomatie.ma/en/contacter-nous
Twitter: twitter.com/Marocdiplo_EN

For appeals sent from the UK: 

Aboudrar Abdesselam
Address: 49 Queens Gate Gardens London SW7 5NE
Fax: 0207 225 3862
Email: ambalondres@maec.gov.ma
Twitter: twitter.com/MOROCCOinUK
Facebook: facebook.com/MoroccoIntheUK/

Send copies to the Embassy of Morocco in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here: diplomatie.ma/en/directory

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting Soulaiman Raissouni’s case and the situation of freedom of expression in Morocco;
  • Share information about Raissouni and include his case in your campaigning activities via social media. Please use the hashtags #FreeMorrocanJournalists and #FreeRaissouni.

Please keep us informed of your activities.

BACKGROUND

Soulaiman Raissouni is a prominent Moroccan journalist and editor-in-chief of the now-closed opposition newspaper Akhbar al-Youm, known for his editorials that were critical of the Moroccan authorities. On May 22, 2020, Moroccan police arrested him on charges of “sexual assault” and “enforced confinement.” Raissouni denied the allegations, denouncing them as retaliatory and politically motivated in a bid to intimidate him. Local human rights groups condemned his arrest as arbitrary, citing the circumstances of his arrest, the smear campaigns by pro-government media, and the lack of evidence against him. International human rights organizations further highlighted the Moroccan authorities’ pattern of intimidation of dissenting voices through the use of sexual assault charges.

Raissouni remained in arbitrary pre-trial detention for almost a year before the Casablanca Court of Appeal sentenced him on July 9, 2021 to five years imprisonment and 100,000 Moroccan Dirhams ($11,000). The trial was marred by irregularities, with the sentence handed in the absence of Raissouni and his defense team. Raissouni’s family told PEN that the Moroccan authorities prevented him from attending several trial hearings, including the sentencing session, and that all his requests for release pending trial were rejected. Moreover, his family confirmed that while in detention, Raissouni was prevented from seeing them and that he has been denied his right to legal counsel on several occasions.

According to the case file that PEN reviewed, Raissouni’s arrest was based on online allegations made by a person who identified himself as a homosexual man and claimed that “in 2018, a well-known person who co-founded a newspaper has sexually assaulted him at his house.” The case file shows that the plaintiff made his online allegations using a different name and never named Raissouni as the assailant. However, local media outlets, known to be close to the government, launched a smear campaign targeting Raissouni prior to his arrest and detention. 

In July 2021, a Forbidden Stories investigation revealed that Raissouni was targeted for surveillance by the notorious Pegasus spyware over a two-year period, starting in 2017. The same spyware had also targeted other prominent Moroccan journalists, including Omar Radi and Taoufik Bouachrine.

In August 2021, Raissouni ended his 122-day hunger strike to protest his prolonged pre-trial detention and unfair trial after being hospitalized. His family told PEN that he had lost considerable weight due to the hunger strike and that his general health has been severely impacted due to a lack of adequate medical care which affects his legs and ability to walk.

Akhbar al-Youm newspaper has been subjected to numerous attacks by the Moroccan authorities. In March 2021, the newspaper’s administration announced that it had been forced to shut down due to the harassment and imprisonment of its journalists as well as financial difficulties. The newspaper’s former editor-in-chief, Taoufik Bouachrine, was sentenced on appeal to 15 years in prison by the Casablanca Court of Appeal in 2019. Bouachrine was initially arrested in February 2018 on charges including human trafficking, sexual assault, rape, prostitution, and harassment. 

One of Bouachrine’s alleged victims published her testimony, revealing that Moroccan security officials exerted immense pressure on her to falsely accuse Bouachrine of sexual assault, and that her statement to the police was falsified by Moroccan security officials and leaked to the press. In response, the victim filed a perjury complaint with the Court of Cassation, where she denied the allegations made on her name against Bouachrine. She was later harassed, intimidated, and sentenced to six months in jail on a charge of “falsifying her statement.” 

However, Bouachrine was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and his sentence was later increased to 15 years on appeal. Moreover, Soulaiman Raissouni’s niece, Hajar Raissouni, who worked as a journalist for the Akhbar al-Youm newspaper, was sentenced to one year in prison for “illegal abortion” and “debauchery” on September 30, 2019. Leading human rights organizations have repeatedly condemned the misuse of sex charges against journalists by the Moroccan authorities in an attempt to silence them.

For more information about freedom of expression in Morocco please click here

For further details contact Mina Thabet at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK Tel: UK Tel: +44 (0) 20 7405 0338 Fax +44 (0) 20 7405 0339 e-mail: Mina.Thabet@pen-international.org 

This alert comes directly from PEN International as part of the Rapid Action Network.