Hamid al-Mahdaoui

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On June 28, 2018, the Casablanca Court of Appeals sentenced Hamid al-Mahdaoui to three years in prison and a fine of 3,000 dirhams (US $315) on charges of “failure to denounce a crime threatening national security,” according to news reports.

According to a November 13, 2018, report in Morocco World News, a Casablanca court of appeals dismissed al-Mahdaoui from his first appeal hearing on November 12 following a heated dispute between the journalist and the attorney-general. The hearing was postponed to December 3, 2018, according to the same report.

Moroccan police arrested al-Mahdaoui, an editor and reporter for the online news outlet Badil, on July 20, 2017, as he traveled to the Rif area of northern Morocco to cover protests organized by the anti-corruption movement Al-Hirak al-Shaaby, or the Popular Movement, according to Omar Benaddi, one of the journalist's colleagues, Human Rights Watch, and news reports.

Al-Hoceima, a city in the Rif area, has been at the center of protests since October 2016 when a garbage truck crushed a fishmonger to death while he was trying to recover fish that police had confiscated from him.

Following a December 2016 court order, police began tapping the journalist’s phone, along with the phones of 30 other individuals, as a part of a court investigation into individuals who were suspected to have links with the Rif protest movement, according to news reports.

Authorities used information obtained in one of al-Mahdoui’s telephone interviews with an exiled Riffian activist to charge the journalist, according to news reports.

During al-Mahdoui’s interview with the activist, which the police had recorded, the interviewee said he would send weapons to Morocco’s Al-Hirak al-Shaaby movement.

When asked to explain why he did not report this conversation to authorities, al-Mahdoui said that he “did not take the threats seriously,” according to news reports that cite al-Mahdaoui testimony during a court hearing on August 2, 2017.

On November 2, 2017, the Al-Hoceima appeals court merged al-Mahdaoui’s case with two other cases in which tens of Al-Hirak al-Shaaby activists, including the movement’s leader Nasser al-Zefzafi, are being tried on anti-state charges, local media reported. Rif24 video journalist Mohamed al-Asrihi was tried as a part of the same case on multiple charges, including “disseminating false news” and “practicing journalism without official accreditation,” according to the reports.

Al-Mahdaoui was later set aside from the activists’ cases and judged separately soon before the verdict, according to news reports.

Previously, on July 25, 2017, the Hoceima Criminal Court sentenced al-Mahdaoui to three months in prison and a fine of 20,000 Moroccan dirhams (US$2,000) for "committing misdemeanors through speeches, and shouting in public places," according to news reports. The court cleared him of the charge of “inciting participation in a banned protest,” according to the same reports.

Al-Mahdaoui appealed, and on September 12, 2017, the Hoceima appeals court extended his three-month prison sentence to a year in prison, according to news reports.

The journalist waged a hunger strike since his sentence was extended until September 26, 2017, according to news reports.

Authorities have been holding him in Casablanca’s Oukacha Prison, a prison official confirmed to CPJ in late 2018.

City prosecutors accused al-Mahdaoui of giving a speech that "incite[d] participation in a banned protest," and of "committing misdemeanors through speeches and shouting in public places," according to news reports.

Witnesses said al-Mahdoui did not give any speeches, and that a police car appeared to be following the journalist's car before his arrest, according to Benaddi and news reports.

Prosecutors said that al-Mahdaoui's arrest is not connected to his work as a journalist, according to media reports.

The journalist has previously faced legal action in relation to Badil’s coverage, CPJ has documented.

As of late 2018, Morocco’s Embassy to the United States and Casablanca’s Secretary General had not responded to CPJ’s requests for comment over phone and email. Al-Mahdaoui’s lawyer and wife did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via social media.

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