Bouachrine’s appeal case opens in Casablanca

Representative of prosecution insists trial of owner of daily Akhbar al-Yaoum in first instance was conducted in compliance with all guarantees of fairness.

CASABLANCA - The appeal case of journalist Taoufiq Bouachrine opened Tuesday in Casablanca, five months after the editor of the independent daily Akhbar al-Yaoum was sentenced to 12 years in prison for sexual assault.

Bouachrine was arrested in February 2018 at the offices of his daily newspaper, known for editorials and cartoons critical of the authorities. He was convicted in November of human trafficking, abuse of power for sexual purposes, rape and attempted rape in the first instance.

Rape trials are rare in Morocco, where victims fear social repercussions in a society that remains largely conservative.

Last January, the United Nations Human Rights Council's Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for his immediate release, stigmatizing "arbitrary" detention and "judicial harassment" underpinned by insufficient evidence and testimonies against him.

The journalist's lawyers relied on this opinion on Tuesday to attack the "arbitrary detention" of their client, provoking indignant reactions from civil party lawyers who denounced the "false data" of the report.

"The trial in the first instance was conducted in compliance with all guarantees of fairness," stressed the representative of the prosecution.

"We are waiting for the justice to reassess the compensation of the victims who do not correspond to the extent of the tortures suffered," said Abdelfattah Zahrach, a lawyer of the civil parties.

In early February, Amnesty International also called on the Moroccan authorities to "immediately" release Bouachrine, saying that he was "paying a high price for his right to express critical opinions peacefully".

Bouachrine is currently being prosecuted in two other cases for "defamation" and "publication of false information" related to articles published in his newspaper early 2018.

In another "defamation" case, he was sentenced in December to pay about 130,000 euros in compensation to two ministers.

In 2009, he was sentenced to four years in prison suspended for publishing a caricature deemed disrespectful of the royal family and the national flag.