On June 26, 2018, Mohamed al-Asrihi, a video journalist and the director of the opposition news website Rif24, was sentenced to five years in prison and a fine of 2,000 Moroccan dirhams (US$210) by the Casablanca Court of Appeals, according to news reports.
According to a copy of the verdict sent by al-Asrihi's brother Wail al-Asrihi and viewed by CPJ, 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, also known as the Popular Movement.
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.
Police attempted to arrest al-Asrihi on May 27, 2017, while he covered protests organized by Al-Hirak al-Shaaby in the northern city of Al-Hoceima, but the website director evaded police and fled the city, his brother, Wail al-Asrihi, told CPJ in June 2017 by email.
Al-Asrihi produced video coverage for Rif24 on protests in the Rif area of northern Morocco, and about the protests’ imprisoned leader Nasser al-Zefzafi, according to news reports and al-Asrihi's Facebook page.
Authorities were holding 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 who lives in the Netherlands, Farid Aouled Lahcen, gave him a camera and other journalistic equipment to produce a documentary film. The film was supposed to be about Muhammad Abdelkarim al-Khattabi, a northern Moroccan activist who led an armed movement against the French and the Spanish armies in the 1910s, according to the news reports.
The journalist also faces charges of "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, are being tried on anti-state charges, local media reported. Authorities are charging Hamid el-Mahdaoui, the editor-in-chief of local news site Badil, in the same case on anti-state charges, according to the reports.
The journalist’s lawyer Khalid Imeeza, told journalists that al-Asrihi on November 30, 2017, declared a hunger strike in which he refused to eat or drink, along with other co-defendants, 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.
Al-Asrihi’s brother told CPJ in September 2017 that the journalist was held in solitary confinement for two months, and has gone on hunger strike multiple times.
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.