HRW slams Morocco over journalist’s 3-year jail term

A group of people hold banners during a demonstration against the prison sentence for Rif Movement leader Nasser Zefzafi and members along with him, in front of the parliament building in Rabat, Morocco on 27 June 2018 [Jalal Morchidi|Anadolu Agency]

Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticised a Morocco court on Wednesday for sentencing a prominent journalist to three years in prison on a “dubious charge” relating to a northern protest movement.

Hamid el Mahdaoui was sentenced in June for “not denouncing” attempts to harm state security after he received a call from a man who said he planned to create armed strife in Morocco.

The court had rejected Mahdaoui’s defence that as a journalist he often receives calls from strangers and that he felt the man’s claims were “idle chatter”, HRW said.

Well known for criticising the Moroccan government on social media, Mahdaoui is already serving a one-year sentence for inciting protests.

He received the call during the thousands-strong Al-Hirak al-Shaabi (Popular Movement) demonstrations that rocked the Rif region in 2016 and 2017.

HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said the charges against him “reek of an arbitrary use of the law on an outspoken journalist by authorities who have been radically reducing the space for critical reporting and commentary.”

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