Human Rights Watch (HRW) has insisted that the sentencing of Moroccan journalist Omar Radi to six years in prison was unfair.
The human rights organisation said it carried out an extensive review of the case and concluded that the investigative journalist was denied a fair trial.
HRW said it interviewed eight of Radi’s lawyers, four of his colleagues, and five witnesses to two of the events for which he was prosecuted, attended five sessions of his trial and read the more than 500 pages of his case file, including the written judgment and dozens of news reports about his case.
The journalist was arrested on 29 July, 2020, and charged with ‘harming the internal and external security of Morocco’. He was also charged with receiving funds from sources ‘linked to foreign intelligence agencies’.
He was convicted on 19 July, 2021, of espionage on behalf of foreign firms, organisations, and states, including the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. He was also convicted of rape after a colleague accused him of assaulting her.
Radi was fined 200,000 dirhams (U.S.$20,000) in damages for the rape complainant. Imad Stitou, a fellow journalist tried with him as a ‘participant’ in the rape case, was sentenced to one year, including six months suspended.
‘In its review of the case file, Human Rights Watch found no evidence that Radi did anything except carry out ordinary journalistic or corporate due diligence work and maintain contact with diplomats, as many journalists and researchers do routinely’, HRW said in a statement.
‘The file contains no evidence that he provided classified information to anyone, or that he ever obtained such information in the first place. The tribunal’s written judgment featured several dubious arguments to justify a guilty verdict of espionage’.
HRW noted that prison authorities denied Radi access to his case file for ten months after his arrest and two months after the trial started.
The organisation also faulted the disqualification of a key defence witness for Radi and the speculative ‘conclusions’ or ‘deductions’ rather than facts.
According to the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch, Radi’s fair trial rights were violated.
The foundation also noted that Radi’s conviction may have a broader ‘chilling’ effect on the speech of other Moroccans.
In its 2021 Freedom in the World study of political rights and civil liberties worldwide, Freedom House rated the north African country as ‘partly free’, with the Maghreb nation earning 37 out of a possible 100 points.
Freedom House also noted that law enforcement officers frequently violate legal and procedural safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention and the courts are regularly used to punish perceived opponents of the government, including dissenting Islamists, human rights and anticorruption activists.
The U.S State Department 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices also stated that although Moroccan law provides for the right to a fair and public trial with the right of appeal, this did not always occur in the Maghreb nation.
However, the government of Morocco, in April 2021, dismissed the stance of human rights defenders that the prosecution of Radi was linked to his criticism of state authorities.
The Moroccan authorities, in a statement, argued that the government had not violated Radi’s human rights.
Source: Human Rights Watch
Photo source: Free Omar Radi