Moroccan journalist Mohamed al-Asrihi is serving a five-year prison sentence after being convicted in 2018 as part of a mass trial of people accused of being part of the anti-corruption group Al-Hirak al-Shaaby, or the Popular Movement. At the time of his arrest in 2017, al-Asrihi was covering protests organized by the movement over the death of a fishmonger in the town of Rif.
Al-Asrihi, a video journalist and the director of the opposition news website Rif24, produced coverage for his outlet on the protests and about the imprisonment of Nasser al-Zefzafi, the leader of the al-Hirak al-Shaaby movement, according to news reports and al-Asrihi’s Facebook page.
Moroccan security forces on June 6, 2017, arrested al-Asrihi at the home of activist Mohsen Athari in the northern town of Trogout, where al-Asrihi was hiding, according to news reports and a statement from Rif24. He had evaded police attempts to arrest him on May 27 as he covered protests in the northern city of Al-Hoceima, his brother, Wail al-Asrihi, told CPJ in June 2017 by email.
Authorities held al-Asrihi in Casablanca’s Oukacha Prison pending trial on charges including practicing journalism without official accreditation and receiving foreign funding from "separatists" abroad, according to news reports.
Al-Asrihi, who did not deny either charge, said a Dutch-Moroccan activist named Farid Aouled Lahcen, who lives in the Netherlands, gave him a camera and other journalistic equipment to produce a documentary. The film was supposed to be about a Moroccan who led an armed movement against the French and the Spanish armies in the 1910s, according to the news reports.
The journalist was also charged with "disseminating false news," which he denied, according to the reports.
On November 2, 2017, the Al-Hoceima appeals court merged al-Asrihi’s case with two other cases, in which more than 50 Al-Hirak al-Shaaby activists, including al-Zefzafi, faced anti-state charges, local media reported. Authorities charged Hamid el-Mahdaoui, the editor-in-chief of local news website Badil, in the same case, according to the reports.
The journalist’s lawyer, Khalid Imeeza, told reporters that al-Asrihi and other defendants on November 30, 2017, declared a hunger strike after prison guards allegedly searched their belongings and took some of their clothes, cigarettes, and prepaid phone cards while they were in a court hearing. Moroccan government spokesperson Moustapha Khalfi did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via email on those accusations. Al-Asrihi’s brother told CPJ in September 2017 that the journalist was held in solitary confinement for two months and had waged several hunger strikes. He has been able to study and take a university exam in prison, according to news reports.
According to a copy of the verdict provided by al-Asrihi’s brother, al-Asrihi was convicted of "undermining Morocco’s internal security by receiving donations and funds for activities and propaganda undermining the Kingdom of Morocco’s unity and sovereignty, and the loyalty of its citizens," as well as "participating in unauthorized demonstrations," "inciting against the unity of the kingdom," "insulting government officials," and "claiming to be a journalist without having acquired the necessary accreditation."
According to the Moroccan magazine Telquel, al-Asrihi was convicted alongside more than 50 activists involved in the Al-Hirak al-Shaaby movement.
The journalist was taken to the hospital on April 24 after losing 10 kilograms (22 pounds) and having nosebleeds after a hunger strike, his sister told local news outlets. He was returned to prison on May 6, after his health stabilized, according to reports.
As of late 2019, Morocco’s Embassy to the United States and Casablanca’s Secretary General had not responded to CPJ’s requests for comment via email.