Moroccan police arrested investigative reporter Omar Radi on July 29, 2020. He is serving a six-year prison sentence for undermining state security and sexual assault. Press freedom advocates in the country told CPJ they believe the charges are in retaliation for his reporting.
A journalist at Le Desk, Radi covers political, economic, and human rights issues, according to Radi’s friend who spoke to CPJ via messaging app on the condition of anonymity as his employer does not allow him to make public statements. In June 2019, Radi was granted a fellowship at the Bertha Foundation, where he was working on a project documenting land expropriation, according to Pearlie Joubert, co-director of the Bertha Challenge Fellowship at the foundation. The Bertha Foundation is a global rights group with offices in Geneva and the United Kingdom.
Radi’s July 29 arrest followed several weeks of harassment by authorities. On June 25, 2020, the National Brigade of Judicial Police (BNPJ), in Casablanca, summoned Radi to appear for the first time in connection to an investigation into allegations that he had received “funds linked to foreign intelligence services,” according to Radi, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app in July. The BNPJ interrogated Radi for five hours before releasing him, Radi told CPJ, and forbade him from traveling outside of the country until the conclusion of the investigation.
Radi was summoned nine other times in relation to the same allegations, and on July 25, 2020, two sexual assault allegations were added to his case, according to Radi’s friend. Radi’s accuser, Le Desk reporter Hafsa Boutahar, went public with her allegations in videos in state-aligned news websites Le 360and Edito24. She alleged that Radi raped her on the night of July 12 to 13 in their boss’s home while other Le Desk colleagues were asleep nearby, according to court documents which CPJ reviewed.
CPJ attempted to contact Boutahar via two social media platforms in March 2021, but she did not respond and CPJ was unable to determine whether she saw the messages.
On July 29, 2020, BNPJ summoned Radi for the tenth time and transferred him to the Casablanca Court of Appeal, according to Radi’s lawyer, Miloud Kandil, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app on September 17, 2020. On the same day, the court charged Radi with undermining state security by receiving foreign funding and collaborating with foreign intelligence as well as sexually assaulting and raping a woman, Kandil told CPJ.
On September 22, 2020, Radi appeared before a court for the first hearing on the charges of undermining state security and sexual assault, Kandil said. At that hearing, Radi was ordered to remain in detention until the conclusion of his trial, Kandil said.
On July 19, 2021, a Casablanca court convicted Radi of sexual assault and undermining state security through espionage and illegally receiving foreign funding, and sentenced him to six years in prison, according to news reports.
In a separate case, Radi is facing charges of public intoxication, defamation, and filming someone without their permission, according to Kandil and Le Desk. On July 5, 2020, police in Casablanca arrested Radi and his colleague, Le Desk journalist Imad Stitou, after the pair allegedly entered into dispute with Karim al-Aloui, a camera operator from Chouf TV, a privately owned pro-government news website, according to news reports and a Chouf TV report. (The report accused Radi of being a spy, though did not specify for whom. CPJ emailed ChoufTV but did not receive a response.) Radi and Stitou were released the following day, according to the reports.
On March 17, 2020, a Casablanca court issued Radi a four-month suspended prison sentence and a fine of 500 Moroccan dirham (US$52) for allegedly insulting a judge in a tweet he posted in April 2019, according to news reports.
On June 22, 2020, Amnesty International released a report alleging that the Moroccan government used Pegasus, a software developed by Israeli cybersecurity company NSO group, to hack Radi’s phone between January 2019 and January 2020. Moroccan authorities denied those allegations in a statement issued on June 26, 2020, according to Reuters.
CPJ spoke with five Moroccan journalists and press freedom advocates who believe the charges are retaliation for Radi’s critical reporting, and in particular his work for the Bertha Challenge Fellowship. They told CPJ that Moroccan authorities often use trumped-up sexual based charges, which are difficult to prove, to keep defendants in prison, citing the cases of Moroccan journalists Taoufik Bouachrine and Soulaiman Rassouni, who both face charges of sexual assault.
Radi is held in solitary confinement at the Oukacha prison in Casablanca, and he suffers from asthma and Crohn’s disease, for which his family sends medication, according to his friend.
The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the state prosecutor’s office, did not return CPJ’s email request for comment on Radi sent in September 2021. The BNPJ did not return CPJ’s requests for comment sent to its official Facebook page in September 2021.