New York, July 29, 2020 - Moroccan authorities must release journalist Omar Radi immediately and refrain from filing retaliatory charges against the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Today, the National Brigade of Judicial Police summoned Radi, a reporter at the independent Le Desk news website, and then transferred him to the Casablanca Court of Appeal, according to reports by his employer and the state news agency MAP.
The court charged Radi with undermining state security by receiving foreign funding and collaborating with foreign intelligence, and also charged him with rape, according to those reports.
If convicted of undermining national security under Articles 191 and 206 of the Moroccan penal code, Radi could face a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 dirhams ($107 to $1,071) and one to five years in prison; if convicted of sexual assault under Articles 485 and 486, he could face up to 10 years in prison.
Radi's lawyers have denied all the charges against him, according to Le Desk; his trial is set to begin on September 22. He is detained at a Casablanca prison, according to news reports.
"Omar Radi's detention is a worrying development, given that the Moroccan authorities in the past have plainly tried to make any charge against him stick in retaliation for his work as a journalist," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "Moroccan authorities should release Radi, investigate any sexual assault charges in a credible and transparent manner, and stop their harassment of independent journalists."
The sexual assault allegation was filed by a woman, whose name was not disclosed, who alleged Radi assaulted her on the night of July 12 to 13, according to Le Desk.
The National Brigade of Judicial Police has repeatedly detained and interrogated Radi on various allegations, including foreign interference, public intoxication, insult, and filming without permission, as CPJ has documented. According to Le Desk, today's summons marked the tenth time he had been called before the authorities.
In March, a Casablanca court issued Radi a four-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 500 Moroccan dirhams ($51) for allegedly insulting a judge, according to reports. In June, Amnesty International released a report alleging that the Moroccan hacked Radi's phone between January 2019 and January 2020. Moroccan authorities denied those allegations, according to Reuters.
The Moroccan Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to an email from CPJ requesting comment. CPJ emailed the Ministry of Justice at an address listed on its official Facebook page, but did not immediately receive any response.
In 2018, Moroccan authorities arrested Taoufik Bouachrine, publisher of the independent newspaper Akhbar al-Youm, on sexual assault, trafficking, and rape charges, for which he remains in prison, according to CPJ research. Local journalists and press freedom advocates say they believe those charges are in retaliation for his critical reporting, according to CPJ research.
Afaf Bernani, who was named as one of Bouachrine's victims, was imprisoned in April 2018 after she denied the allegations and accused Moroccan authorities of falsifying her testimony, according to news reports.