Moroccan Authorities Fight Back, Deploy Trumped Up Sexual Assault Charge, Other Against Journalists - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE



Friday, March 19, 2021

Moroccan Authorities Fight Back, Deploy Trumped Up Sexual Assault Charge, Other Against Journalists

There seemed to be a resolve by the Moroccan Authorities to take their own pound of flesh on some journalists in the country for perceived unfriendly reports.

Journalists Taoufik BouachrineSoulaiman Raissouni, and Omar Radi  in Morocco have a lot in common. All three have a nose for corruption, penning op-eds or investigations alleging government abuse. And all three have been charged with or sentenced to prison for sex crimes. 

Press freedom advocates and the journalists’ family members told CPJ that Moroccan authorities are using trumped up sexual assault and “morals” charges to retaliate against these and other journalists for their reporting. And this has instilled a sense of fear among members of the press in a country that already had a reputation for surveilling and imprisoning journalists who report critically on the king or on protests

“Today, every journalist in the country — and there aren’t that many left — is scared of being targeted next,” Moroccan freelance journalist Aida Alami told CPJ over the phone. 

According to press freedom advocates, the recent spate of sex crimes cases represents a new tactic on the part of Moroccan authorities – one that comes in the wake of unkept promises of pro-media reform. In 2016, the country updated its press code to outlaw prison sentences for journalists, proof, Minister of Communications Mustafa al Khalfi said, that Morocco was on a “democratic path.”

But as Moroccan journalists predicted in interviews with CPJ at the time, the country continued to imprison journalists, often accusing them of anti-state activity. Now, sex crimes charges have become another tool for authorities to punish journalists – one that has the effect of dampening public support for the accused. 

“In general, when journalists were facing anti-state charges, they were considered heroes, gaining so much popularity. Today, when a journalist is accused of shameful crimes like rape, it is guaranteed that public opinion will perceive them as unethical,” Le Desk reporter Imad Stitou, who has been questioned as an accomplice to Radi, told CPJ via phone. 

Samia Errazzouki, a Moroccan former journalist based in the U.S., said this dynamic extends to the international realm. “Charging journalists with sexual assault is a tool to prevent international and national solidarity with these journalists, who are now perceived as rapists,” she said a phone call with CPJ.   

CPJ emailed the Moroccan Ministry of Justice for comment but did not receive a response. 

Two of the three journalists – Bouachrine and Raissouni – worked for Moroccan daily Akbhar al-Youm, which Alami told CPJ was one of the last bastions of critical media in the country. On March 14, the publication’s management announced in a statement on Bouachrine’s Facebook page that it was closing the outlet for financial reasons; it said Morocco denied the outlet emergency funding allocated to other media in the pandemic. 

Bouachrine, who was editor-in-chief, was arrested on February 23, 2018, from the Casablanca offices of the newspaper. Days earlier, he published an op-ed criticizing Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine al-Othmani for his alleged failure to improve infrastructure in rural areas. His wife, Asmae Moussaoui, told CPJ via phone she believes this article prompted the arrest. 

In November 2018, a Casablanca court sentenced Bouachrine to 12 years in prison and a fine of 200,000 dirhams (US$20,980) after convicting him on charges including sexual assault, rape, and human trafficking; in October 2019, the court increased his sentence to 15 years on these and other charges, according to CPJ research.

Moussaoui said Bouachrine’s initial trial showcased the flimsiness of the case against her husband — out of the 14 women the prosecutors had introduced as plaintiffs, only five appeared in court to support the accusations against him, while five others testified that Bouachrine never touched them.

One of these women was Afaf Bernani, a former reporter at Akhbar al-Youm. The day after Bouachrine’s arrest, police interrogated her for eight hours as a witness to Bouachrine’s alleged rape of another colleague in his office at the newspaper, she told CPJ via phone. 

After she insisted that she witnessed no such incident, police falsified her testimony to say that Bouachrine had raped her too, she said. In the courtroom, Bernani stood her ground. 

“I testified that he was innocent and that the police falsified my testimony. The prosecutor did not like that and somehow convinced the judge that I was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome,” she said. 

Her courtroom testimony cost her: In June 2018 she was sentenced to six months in prison for perjury and defamation, she said. She fled to Tunisia to escape arrest. 

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