Moroccan police on February 23, 2018 arrested Taoufik Bouachrine, a columnist and the publisher of Akhbar al-Youm, at the newspaper’s headquarters in Casablanca on charges including human trafficking, sexual assault, rape, prostitution, and harassment, according to his lawyers, outlets, and news reports.
The general prosecutor on February 26 extended Bouachrine’s detention in Casablanca’s Okasha prison for an additional 24 hours, pending investigation into the charges, according to his outlet and news reports. The prosecutor said in a statement published in local media that police presented more than 50 videos as evidence.
At the February 26 investigation hearing Bouachrine’s lawyers, Abdessamad Idrissi and Mohamed Zayan, said the charges were false and that no compromising videos of the journalist exist. They told local media that a journalist and a government employee, both unnamed by the lawyers, on February 21 filed a complaint against Bouachrine in retaliation for his work.
“Bouachrine knew [the plaintiffs] in personal and other professional settings,” Idrissi said.
The journalist is known for his editorials, which often criticize the government. In Bouachrine’s most recent editorial, published on February 21, he criticized Morocco’s Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani and Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch.
On February 27, 2018, the headline of the print edition of Akhbar al-Youm alleged that Bouachrine’s office had been bugged and that he would be blackmailed into confessing, according to local news.
A Moroccan government spokesperson, Mustapha Khalfi, refrained from commenting on the case to local media. Khalfi did not immediately answer CPJ’s emailed request for comment.
Bouachrine is due in court on March 8, according to reports.
Authorities have targeted Bouachrine before. A Moroccan court in mid-February 2018, convicted the journalist of criminal defamation in a lawsuit filed by two government ministers, including Akhannouch, and ordered him to pay a fine of 45 million Moroccan centimes (US$49,000), according to reports.
Local journalists and press freedom advocates said in news reports that the timing and circumstances under which Bouachrine was arrested were part of a wider crackdown on dissent in the country, and were orchestrated by officials to discourage critical reporting.