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Morocco «continued to target, prosecute, jail, and harass critics», HRW says

In its recent report on the human rights situation in several countries, Human Rights Watch said that Morocco «continued to selectively target, prosecute, jail and harass critics, an enforce various repressive law, notably pertaining to individual liberties» in 2019.

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«While there remained some space to criticize the government, authorities continued to selectively target, prosecute, jail and harass critics, an enforce various repressive law, notably pertaining to individual liberties», wrote international NGO Human Rights Watch in a recent report on the human rights situation in Morocco in 2019.

In its annual report, released Tuesday, HRW referred to the main freedom of expression violations that took place in Morocco in 2019. It recalls that in February an appeals court in Tetouan sentenced Soufiane al-Naguad to one year in prison for «incitement to insurrection». The man in question was tried for a Facebook comment about the death of Hayat Belkacem, a 20-year-old Moroccan who was shot to death on a boat that was crossing the strait of Gibraltar for Europe.

The New York-based NGO included also the trial of Moroccan journalist Hamid El Mahdaoui in its report on Morocco. It indicates that his verdict was «based on a phone call he recived in  May 2017 from a man who he intended to create armed strife in Morocco».

«The court did not accept the journalist’s defense that he had concluded the declarations of the caller, whom he did not know, were idle chatter that did not warrant alerting the authorities», HRW, argued, adding that «authorities have a long history of targeting El Mahdaoui, a government critic».

Journalists and NGOs

2019 was marked by other trials and prosecutions related to freedom of expression. HRW referred to the case of journalist Hajar Raissouni, who was sentenced to one year in prison for having an «abortion and sex outside marriage», before being granted royal pardon.

«A prosecutor publicly disclosed deeply personal details about her sexual and reproductive life, and a judge refused to provisionally release her pending trial», HRW pointed out.

Associations were also targeted by the crackdown on freedom of expression during 2019, according to the international NGO. HRW recalls that in April, an appeals court in Casablanca confirmed the dissolution of Racines, a cultural association. «The decision was taken after the governor of Casablanca petitioned a tribunal to act against the group for «organizing an activity including interviews interspersed with clear offenses towards institutions», it recalled.

Moreover, authorities in Morocco «impeded events» organized by the local officers of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH). «On at least five occasions in 2019, including in Azrou, Tiznit, and Benslimane, authorities blocked the entrance of community centers and other meeting rooms where AMDH events were programmed», HRW said.

Other NGOs suffered from the same thing during 2019 in Western Sahara, the NGO added. «Moroccan authorities systematically prevent gatherings in the Western Sahara supporting Sahrawi self-determination, obstruct the work of some local human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including by blocking their legal registration, and on occasion beat activists and journalists in their custody and on the streets», it said.

The same source stressed that in July, a court in Laayoune «sentenced Nezha Khalidi, a member of Equipe Media, a collective of media activists who favor self-determination for Western Sahara, to a fine for exercising journalism without official credentials».

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