Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for Moroccan newspaper editor Souleiman Raissouni’s immediate release pending his appeal against the five-year prison sentence he received from a Casablanca court on 9 July at the end of four-month trial marked by multiple irregularities.
Held for more than a year, Raissouni was not in court to hear the judge find him guilty of sexual assault – a charge he has always denied – because he was extremely weak from a 93-day-old hunger strike. He had been unable to attend hearings since mid-June because he was denied his request “to be transported by ambulance and have a wheel-chair.”
“This decision is the outcome of a trial marked by flagrant irregularities,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We call for Souleiman Raissouni’s release pending an appeal hearing. His survival depends on this. He deserves due process.”
The editor of the Arabic-language newspaper Akhbar Al Yaoum, Raissouni was arrested in May 2020 on the basis of nothing more than the claim made by a young LGBTQ activist on Facebook. For the first 15 days after his arrest, he was not allowed to communicate freely with his lawyers.
When the trial began in February 2021, the prosecution requested the maximum sentence of ten years in prison on the grounds that Raissouni was a public figure and had given “contradictory” statements while his accuser was the member of a minority and had given “consistent” statements.
Raissouni’s lawyers walked out of the hearing on 8 July after the judge refused yet again to grant him the resources he needed to attend his trial despite his extremely poor physical condition.
Before being jailed, Raissouni often wrote editorials critical of the government for the newspaper, which had to suspend payments to its creditors in March. His niece, Hajar Raissouni, a reporter for newspaper, was sentenced to a year in prison in 2019 on charges of seeking an “illegal abortion” and “sexual relations outside marriage.” She eventually received a royal pardon.
The newspaper’s founder, Taoufik Bouachrine, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 2018 on several sex charges that he has always denied. The sentence was increased to 15 years in prison on appeal.
Marocco is ranked 136th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index.