Moroccan Journalist Subjected to ‘Abuse of Process,’ New TrialWatch Report Finds
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The trial of Moroccan investigative journalist Omar Radi, who was convicted of national security offences and rape and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, “involved serious violations of international fair trial standards,” a TrialWatch report said today. The report gives Mr. Radi’s trial a grade of ‘D,’ with TrialWatch Expert Professor Hannah R. Garry concluding that the proceedings were “an abuse of process.” Mr. Radi remains in prison, after an appeal court upheld his sentence in March. He is currently confined to a cell with two other prisoners and permitted visits only twice per month.
Mr. Radi’s ordeal began two years ago today when he was arrested shortly after Amnesty International reported that his phone had been infiltrated by Pegasus surveillance software. He was kept in pre-trial detention for nearly a year, during which time he went on hunger strike for 22-days to protest his ongoing detention. Inadequate medical care while in prison subsequently led to internal bleeding. Mr. Radi, who suffers from pre-existing health conditions, also recently became COVID-19 symptomatic, but has reportedly not been tested despite experiencing symptoms.
The report is based on monitoring of Mr. Radi’s trial and appeal by CFJ’s partner the USC Gould School of Law International Human Rights Clinic. It comes against the backdrop of continuing prosecutions of those critical of the government, including for alleged sex-related crimes. Previously, Taoufik Bouachrine, editor-in-chief of Akhbar al-Youm, an independent news outlet, was arrested days after publishing an op-ed criticizing the Moroccan Prime Minister. Like Mr. Radi, Mr. Bouachrine was convicted of sexual assault and rape, among other charges, with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention finding that the proceedings in his case “undermined the right to a fair trial.” In another case monitored by TrialWatch, journalist Hajar Raissouni, who also wrote for Akhbar al-Youm, was convicted of the ‘crimes’ of abortion and extramarital sex. She was subsequently pardoned by the King of Morocco, but only after widespread criticism from TrialWatch and others. More recently, a Moroccan activist was sentenced to four years in prison for offending the King on social media, and the Association Marocaine des Droits Humains has documented an “unprecedented regression” in respect for freedom of expression in the country.
“Omar Radi’s trial was in the context of a wider crackdown on journalists critical of the Moroccan authorities, and is further evidence of a pattern in Morocco of using shame-inducing charges to stifle critical reporting and political dissent,” explained Professor Garry, the USC Law International Human Rights Clinic’s Director.
Before trial, Mr. Radi was the target of a virulent and widespread media campaign by outlets close to the Moroccan government, characterizing him as an alcoholic and accusing him, among other things, of rape, theft, and not paying his water or electricity bills. This press campaign compromised his right to presumption of innocence. Then at trial, the court limited Mr. Radi’s ability to call or examine witnesses, severely curtailing his defense.
“Throughout the proceedings, the court disregarded evidence that–according to the defense–would have supported Mr. Radi’s version of events,” added Professor Garry. “This violated Mr. Radi’s rights to mount a proper defense and to an impartial tribunal.”
Mr. Radi’s lawyers were not allowed to cross-examine a key prosecution witness who alleged he had been on a video call with the complainant at the time of the alleged rape. Nor was Mr. Radi given the opportunity to present witnesses in his defense on both charges. Although Mr. Radi’s alleged ‘handler,’ Arnaud Simons, who formerly worked at the Dutch Embassy, volunteered to testify, the court refused to call him as a witness. Similarly, the court refused to consider testimony from Imad Stitou, a key defence witness whose testimony was deemed ‘unreliable’ without valid cause and who was himself charged with a crime after he gave a statement in Mr. Radi’s defence.
Mr. Radi’s case is currently being considered by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and TrialWatch will share the findings of this report with the Working Group for its consideration.
Omar Radi is an award-winning Moroccan journalist who has exposed, among other things, alleged corruption relating to the Moroccan monarchy’s financial holdings. As a result of this work, Mr. Radi has faced harassment by the authorities.
For years, Mr. Radi was denied a press pass, allowing the government to argue that he was not eligible for protections afforded to journalists by the Moroccan Press Code. In 2020, Mr. Radi was convicted of insulting the Moroccan judiciary for a Tweet in which he criticized a judge for upholding harsh sentences for protestors involved in the 2016 Hirak Rif movement. TrialWatch monitored this trial together with USC’s International Human Rights Clinic, and TrialWatch Expert Prof. Garry found that it “did not meet basic international human rights standards for assuring a fair trial.” The charges in that case were also brought shortly after Mr. Radi returned from Algeria where on a radio program, he had criticized the Moroccan King’s land distribution policy alleging it unfairly benefitted the King’s friends.
On June 22, 2020, Amnesty International released a report saying the Moroccan government had used “Pegasus” spyware to monitor Mr. Radi’s phone. Three days later, Moroccan authorities announced that they had opened an investigation into Mr. Radi on charges of espionage. Over the course of the month of July, additional investigations were opened for alleged tax evasion, public intoxication and violence, and then for rape.
On July 29, 2020, Mr. Radi was arrested and formally charged with espionage and rape. The first set of charges alleged that Mr. Radi harmed both the internal and external security of the Moroccan State due to his consulting work for two British multinational companies, his relationship with diplomats at the local Dutch Embassy, and his fellowship with an international social justice organization called the Bertha Foundation. The second set of charges alleged that Mr. Radi assaulted and raped a colleague in July 2020.
Mr. Radi was kept in detention for nearly a year prior to and during trial, during which time he requested bail on numerous occasions. His requests were consistently denied, despite the fact that there was little evidence that Mr. Radi posed a danger to the public, presented a flight risk, or would interfere with evidence. While in detention, Mr. Radi, who suffered from preexisting health conditions, was subjected to poor treatment and, at times, denied proper access to medical care.
On July 19, 2021, the court convicted Mr. Radi, speculating that text messages from a Dutch diplomat offering to introduce Mr. Radi to his successor were “an agent . . . passing on his informant to another agent as he is near of completing his duties,” and that Mr. Radi’s choice of text message as a method of communication evidenced that he “was aware of the danger that accompanie[d] his role as well as the nature of the suspicious tasks assigned to him.”
On March 3, 2022, an Appeals Court in Casablanca upheld Mr. Radi’s conviction and prison sentence.
See here for this statement in Arabic.
See here for the report in Arabic.