Moroccan authorities arrested Moroccan journalist Soulaiman Raissouni on May 22, 2020. He is serving a five-year prison sentence for sexual assault. Press freedom advocates in the country told CPJ they believe the charges are in retaliation for his reporting.
Raissouni began working as an editorial consultant for Akhbar al-Youm in 2017 and in 2018 and replaced journalist Taoufik Bouachrine as editor-in-chief after Bouachrine was imprisoned. Akhbar al-Youm covers a range of topics, including local and international news and entertainment, according to CPJ’s review of his work.
On May 22, 2020, plainclothes security officers arrested Raissouni from his home in Casablanca on allegations of sexual assault, according to the newspaper and Abderrazzak Boughanbour, the journalist’s friend and founder of the Free Soulaiman Raissouni Group on Facebook, who spoke with CPJ over the phone.
On May 24, 2020, security officers returned to journalist’s home to conduct a search, according to a family member who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal against Raissouni. The family member did not say if anything was confiscated from the home.
Security officers arrested Raissouni after a Moroccan man, Adam Muhammed, filed a police complaint against the journalist on May 21, alleging that he sexually assaulted him in 2018, according to Muhammed who spoke to CPJ via messaging app. Muhammed had also posted about the incident on Facebook the week prior, though he did not name Raissouni in the post, according to CPJ’s review of a screenshot of the statement, which is no longer publicly available.
Muhammed, who identifies as queer on Facebook, told CPJ that he did not file a complaint in 2018 because at the time, he feared state retaliation due to his sexual orientation. (Same-sex relations are criminalized in Morocco and offenders can face up to three years in prison and a fine of 1,200 Moroccan dirhams, or US$123, according to Morocco’s Penal Code.) He told CPJ that it wasn’t until 2020 that he felt mentally prepared to file the complaint.
On May 27, 2020, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights, a local independent rights group, condemned Raissouni’s pretrial detention in a statement and demanded his release until the conclusion of investigations. The group acknowledged Moroccan authorities’ history of charging Akhbar al-Youm’s journalists – such as former editor-in-chief Bouachrine — with sex crimes and pointed out that the alleged sexual assault took place two years ago.
Raissouni’s first hearing was held on September 30, 2020, during which the court ordered his detention until the conclusion of his trial, according to the same family member.
CPJ spoke with at least five local journalists and press freedom advocates who said that they believe that Raissouni’s reporting and recent work for the newspaper triggered state retaliation against him, though they did not cite a specific article. The sources, who all spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of reprisal, pointed to Moroccan authorities’ pattern of filing sexual based charges against journalists, citing Bouachrine and Omar Radi. They claimed that such charges are difficult to prove, which allows authorities to detain journalists for longer periods while investigations drag out.
According to the Pegasus Project, a collaborative global reporting project on the use of NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware tool against journalists and others, Raissouni was selected for possible surveillance with the spyware from 2017 to 2019.
Raissouni isn’t the only journalist in his family to face arrest. His niece Hajar Raissouni, a reporter for Akhbar al-Youm was detained with her fiancé on August 31, 2019. At a hearing on September 2, 2019, Raissouni was charged with having an illegal abortion and sex outside of marriage; her fiancé was charged with complicity in an illegal abortion and sex outside of marriage, according to Human Rights Watch. Hajar Raissouni was released in October 2019 following a royal pardon, according to news reports.
On April 8, 2021, before his sentencing, Raissouni began a hunger strike to protest his imprisonment that lasted 122 days, according to news reports. As a result, the journalist lost more than 66 pounds, developed chronic hypertension, lost consciousness several times, and can no longer move his right leg freely, according to the same family member. Raissouni was transferred to the prison’s hospital multiple times, but did not receive adequate medical care for these conditions, the family member said.
Raissouni also has high blood pressure and severe eye allergies, according to the family member. He has been denied medical care in prison for these conditions and asks his wife to send him medications on her visits, according to the same source who spoke with CPJ in September 2021.
Raissouni has been held in solitary confinement in the Oukacha Prison in Casablanca since his arrest, the family member told CPJ in September 2021.
The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the state prosecutor’s office, did not return CPJ’s email requests for comment on Raissouni sent in September 2021.