Moroccan prison authorities persecuting jailed investigative reporter

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the vindictive reprisals to which jailed Moroccan journalist Omar Radi is being subjected by the authorities in Tiflet prison, 50 km east of the Moroccan capital, Rabat, for staging a symbolic one-day hunger strike on 10 December, Human Rights Day.

After visiting Radi a few days later, his parents were dismayed to report that their son’s morale is at an all-time low because of the new aggressivity displayed by the prison director. His mother, Fatiha Cherribi, said Radi’s new problems began on 9 December, when he wrote to the prison management announcing his intention to stage a 24-hour hunger strike from 6 p.m. that day until 6 p.m. the next day.

The same hunger strike was observed by six other prisoners of conscience  – Taoufik Bouachrine, Soulaimane Raissouni, Mohamed Ziane, Nouredine El Aouadj, Redha Benothmane and Mohamed Bassou – of whom the first two are also journalists.

Vindictive reaction

The prison authorities retaliated immediately when Radi handed in his letter shortly before noon on 9 December, depriving him of food long before he was due to begin the hunger strike. On returning to his cell, Radi found a prison official, who confiscated all of his food provisions, while addressing him in crude and violent terms. Radi demanded an explanation, but this was refused. The confiscated food was finally returned to him two days later, on 11 December, but it was now spoiled and infested with maggots.

The vindictive and demeaning behaviour of the prison officials is clearly a reprisal, a punishment against this journalist for the simple fact that he dared to observe a symbolic hunger strike with other unjustly detained prisoners of conscience.

“The Moroccan prison authorities seems to regard Omar Radi as an object they can treat as they like, that he has no rights, not even the most basic right, that of denouncing an injustice to which one is being subjected,” said Khaled Drareni, RSF’s North Africa representative. “This is unacceptable. These petty and intolerable attacks must stop immediately.”

Radi is an investigative reporter and human rights activist who has been covering corruption and other sensitive subjects for more than ten years and has, as a result, been subjected to judicial harassment.

The authorities began investigating him on suspicion of spying in June 2020, shortly after Amnesty International reported that the Pegasus spyware had been used to hack into his phone. A month later, he was jailed on the basis of a rape allegation and ended up being tried simultaneously on the completely different rape and spying charges, increasing doubts about the fairness of the trial, which resulted in a six-year prison sentence in July 2021.

The authorities had been targeting him for at least three years prior to this trial and, in December 2019, he had been given a four-month suspended prison sentence on a contempt of court charge based on an eight-month-old tweet. He began a hunger strike in April 2021 in protest against his detention but had to abandon it after 21 days because he suffers from Crohn’s disease.

In his absence, Radi was awarded the RSF Prize for Independence at a ceremony in Paris on 12 December.