Six days after the imprisonment of Moroccan journalist Omar Radi in Oukacha prison, near Casablanca, his lawyer Souad Brahma still cannot believe it. “He should have appeared free at his trial, he was sought a crime, in this case rape, to deprive him of liberty, but this accusation is not based on anything solid,” she is indignant.
Long in the crosshairs of the authorities
On Tuesday August 4, she was able to pay him a first visit during a detention which promises to be long, the first hearing before the investigating judge being set for September 22. Omar Radi is facing four counts, including rape and endangering the internal and external security of the state. The lawyer hopes that the media pressure will then allow his release.
Author of investigations on the links between political and economic circles, defender of human rights, very involved in the “movement of February 20” 2011, in the wake of the Arab Spring, the 33-year-old journalist knew for a long time in the line of the authorities.
In December 2019, his imprisonment for having criticized, on Twitter, the heavy sentences of the protesters of the Hirak du Rif – the protest in the northern region of the country in 2016-2017 – had sparked an outcry. He was released a few days later, then sentenced in March to four months suspended prison sentence for contempt of court.
The toughening of repression
But since the end of June, the noose has tightened around him. He was summoned eight times by the national judicial police brigade for questioning lasting up to ten hours. Amnesty International revealed on 22 June that he was being monitored using Pegasus spyware from the Israeli company NSO Group; which allows access to all the content of a mobile phone.
The NGO has also been in the spotlight since then. “We suffered a smear campaign in the official media which reported threats to close our office in Rabat and to prosecute because we would have defamed Moroccan institutions and damaged the image of the kingdom”, reports Amna Guellali, responsible for the Maghreb at Amnesty. “This is not the first time that a government has sought to undermine our work and that this has coincided with an intensification of repression in the country”, deplores the NGO.
In the kingdom, ranked at 133e rank (out of 180 countries) for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, more than twenty journalists and bloggers have been convicted, in particular on charges of rape or links with foreign powers. This was the case with the influential and critical director of the daily Akhbar Al Yaoum, Taoufik Bouachrine. Incarcerated since February 2018, he was sentenced on appeal to fifteen years in prison last October for sexual violence.
The UN Human Rights Council’s working group on arbitrary detention called for his release and his right to obtain compensation for his arbitrary deprivation of liberty, in an unsuccessful opinion released on 29 January 2019.
A reason for indictment “As old as repression”
Three days after Amnesty International’s revelation, a rape complaint was filed against Omar Radi. “Rape creates doubt. It is an old weapon used to muzzle journalists and to be able to imprison them ”, sighs Khadija Ryadi, former president of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) and coordinator of the support committee for Omar Radi. “We were warned of this complaint to the AMDH, to neutralize us, so that we do not support Omar Radi”, she adds.
The reasons given for his indictment are “As old as repression”, denounces the Association of Maghrebian Workers of France. The feminist group Hounna (Elles, in French), which makes the fight against rape and violence against women the heart of its fight, has also rebelled against “Any instrumentalisation of violence against women for political and security purposes”.
Journalists battered in the Maghreb
In Algeria (146e out of 180 according to the reporters without borders ranking for press freedom): four years in prison required against Khaled Drareni, detained since March 29, for covering a demonstration, verdict on August 10. Several other journalists are imprisoned.
In Tunisia (72e) : Taoufik Ben Brik was sentenced to one year in prison and jailed on July 23 for defamation and incitement to violence. Freedom of the press is a (fragile) achievement of the 2011 revolution. The country was ranked 164e in 2010.
In Libya (164e) : Ismail Bouzriba Al Zoui, detained since the end of 2018 in Benghazi, is serving a 15-year prison sentence for supporting terrorism. He was hostile to Marshal Haftar’s offensive, reports the Cairo Institute for the Study of Human Rights.