Casablanca (Morocco) (AFP)
A Moroccan court on Monday sentenced journalist and human rights activist Omar Radi to six years in prison for espionage and rape, offenses he denied.
Radi’s trial opened in June last year, just days after human rights group Amnesty International accused Moroccan authorities of installing Israel-made Pegasus spyware on his cell phone.
Rabat denied the information at the time, and on Monday authorities “categorically rejected” the use of Israeli spyware to monitor critics at home and abroad.
Radi, 35, is a vocal critic of the authorities and has been detained since July 2020.
His arrest and detention sparked protests from rights activists, intellectuals and politicians at home and abroad.
He faced charges of rape and “endangering the internal security of the state” in two separate cases which are being investigated separately but tried together.
Radi was also accused of receiving “foreign funds” in exchange for providing “intelligence” information to a third party.
On Monday, Amnesty in a statement called the procedure “flawed” and “no justice”, and called for “a new fair trial in accordance with international standards”.
At a previous hearing in June, the judge asked Radi about the text messages he exchanged with a Dutch diplomat in 2018.
Radi has always protested his innocence and last month declared in court that the case against him was void and “did not justify my imprisonment for almost a year”.
He said he was victimized by people “who consider themselves above the law”, and dismissed both charges of rape and espionage.
“Where is the crime in the fact that a journalist meets and exchanges (opinions) with an official of a foreign country? ” He asked.
– ‘False allegations’ –
Monday’s decision came as Morocco said it “had never acquired computer software to infiltrate communications devices.”
A government statement denied that Rabat had “infiltrated the phones of several national and international public figures and heads of international organizations through computer software.”
A joint investigation by several Western media outlets revealed on Sunday that activists, journalists, businessmen and politicians around the world had been spied on using software developed by the Israeli company NSO.
Media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Guardian and Le Monde, have linked NSO Group to a list of tens of thousands of smartphone issues.
Many numbers on the list were grouped together in 10 countries, including Morocco.
Rabat expressed Monday its “great astonishment” at this information, calling it “false allegations without any foundation”.
Also on Monday, the same Casablanca court sentenced another journalist, Imad Stitou, 32, to six months in prison, who was allegedly present with Radi when he allegedly raped a woman.
Radi had said that the sex was consensual.
Radi’s is the latest in a series of harsh sentences handed down against journalists in the kingdom of North Africa, but also in neighboring Algeria.
Authorities in both countries have detained and tried journalists on charges ranging from undermining national interests to sexual assault.
Last week, the United States criticized the record of rights of its Moroccan ally, after having sentenced another journalist, Soulaimane Raissouni, to five years in prison.
The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders ranked Morocco 136 out of 180 countries in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index, and Algeria 146.
Last year, a Human Rights Watch report sounded the alarm on the erosion of press freedoms in the two Maghreb states.
“Algerian and Moroccan authorities can compete with each other in many areas, but when it comes to disliking journalism and bold commentary, they agree,” HRW’s Eric Goldstein said in the report.
“Morocco’s modus operandi is to lay a multitude of specific criminal charges, while Algerian authorities prefer vaguely defined criminal code offenses,” he said.
© 2021 AFP