CASABLANCA, Morocco (Reuters) – A Moroccan court in Casablanca on Friday handed a five-year jail sentence to Moroccan dissident journalist Soulimane Raisouni on sexual assault charges, which he denies, in a case that outraged human rights advocates in the country.
Raisouni has been on a hunger strike for over 80 days to protest his pre-trial detention since May 2020.
The plaintiff and witnesses were heard in the absence of Raisouni and his defense which had withdrawn from attending hearings since Tuesday citing concerns about a fair trial .
“A fair trial cannot take place in the absence of the defendant himself,” said his lawyer Souad Brahma.
“All Raisouni asked for to be able to attend the trial was to be transported from jail by an ambulance given his health condition and be given a wheelchair. But he was denied this by the prison administration,” Brahma said, adding that the verdict will be appealed.
Raisouni’s family and defence said that he should be taken to hospital after his health sharply deteriorated due to the strike.
The prosecutor had accused Raisouni of delaying tactics and the prison administration said his health condition was stable.
On the same day, hearings took place on a sexual assault and espionage case against Omar Radi, another dissident reporter in pre-trial detention since July last year.
Rights activists believe authorities are using criminal charges to target political opponents by applying the law unevenly. Raisouni and Radi are outspoken critics of public policy, the judiciary and Morocco’s human rights record.
Both Radi and Raisouni have faced slander campaigns prior to their detention by outlets that usually defend authorities.
The plaintiffs in the two cases said attempts to cast the cases as politically-motivated deny them their right to seek justice and accused rights groups of victim-blaming.
The government says the judiciary is independent and that courts and the police were only implementing national laws.
(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by Alistair Bell)