RABAT - Morocco will next month hold a preliminary hearing in the trial of the editor of a newspaper critical of the government for sexually assaulting a man, an official source said.
The hearing comes after two of the editor's colleagues have also faced high-profile court cases since 2019.
Akhbar al-Yaoum has long been regarded as the newspaper that is most critical of Morocco's government and supportive of Islamist politicians.
Soulaiman Raissouni, the newspaper's editor, was arrested on Friday and has denied an accusation by a 24-year-old man that he held him prisoner and sexually assaulted him two years ago. Gay sex is against the law in Morocco.
“We have fears this is another politically motivated case because it comes after a campaign targeting Soulaiman's reputation in pro-establishment media,” said Khadija Riadi, an activist with the Moroccan rights group AMDH.
The paper's founder, Taroufiq Bouachrine, was jailed for 15 years in 2019 for charges that also included sexual assault.
Soulaiman’s lawyer Abdelmaoula El Marouri, a member of the Islamist ruling Party of Justice and Development and Vice-President of “El Karama” human rights association, took aim at the complainant’s homosexuality, questioning Morocco’s justice for approving the complaint by a man he called “a sodomite.”
“Was the complaint accepted of a person bragging about being "homosexual"… who claimed that he had been subjected to an attempted rape? Who should be arrested? In which country is this happening?,” Marouri, wrote on Facebook.
Marouri’s statement triggered an outrage among some media outlets in the North African kingdom.
“Once again, proof by two is provided of the irreversible contempt nourished and cultivated by the Islamo-fascists towards homosexual citizens transformed into outcasts!” wrote Le Maroc Diplomatique.
“In fact, the "Daeshi" words of this lawyer, a member of the PJD, do not contrast so much with the positions of the leaders of his party on the subject of homosexuality,” it added.
“This lawyer is a risk for the legal profession. Not because he made a mistake, but because he stuck to it,” wrote the popular dialectal website Goud.ma.
Ibtissame Lachgar, founder of a feminist group in Morocco which supports gay rights, said that taking Raissouni's side in the case before the trial encouraged rape culture.
“The victim is not the cause, the rapist is. Anyone who justifies rape and blames the victim is also ... a rapist,” wrote Lachgar on Facebook, criticising Reporters Without Borders (RSF) for a turning a blind eye on rape.
On May 22, RSF Secretary General and Chair of the Forum on Information and Democracy, Christophe Deloire, expressed his “full solidarity” with Raissouni, saying on Twitter that the Moroccan journalist was “victim of a defamation campaign” by media close to the intelligence services.
Deloire’s tweet sparked strong reactions, calling for him to carry out a thorough research into the case before jumping to conclusions.
“And here are the pseudo-journalists who arrive as reinforcements to defend a #homophobic rapist by shouting the government’s conspiracy ..pathetic,” replied Abou Rida Al-Tantaoui to Deloire’s tweet.
International human rights organisations that had been critical of Hajar Raissouni’s arrest, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have so far kept their silence over the alleged rape case.
Soulaiman's niece, Hajar Raissouni, who is a journalist at the same newspaper, faced trial last year on charges of having an abortion, but received a royal pardon after the case drew widespread outrage.
Moroccan human rights activists have repeatedly called for the removal of penal code Articles 489, 490 and 491, which criminalise homosexuality, sex outside marriage and adultery.