Morocco. “I demand the release of my husband Soulaiman Raissouni”

Moroccan journalist Soulaiman Raissouni, who has been in prison for a year and a half, is awaiting the outcome of his appeal. The editorialist of the daily Akhbar Al-Yaoum is targeted by the regime because of his critical writings. His wife Khouloud Mokhtari is asking for his release while awaiting trial.

A young Moroccan gay man, who goes by Adam, published a post on his Facebook page claiming that he had been sexually assaulted by an unnamed person. On May 22, 2020, a few days after this post appeared, my husband was kidnapped in the middle of the street in front of our building when we had just parked with our baby, in the company of my mother. As he had not received any summons from the police, we did not know who the men in civilian clothes were. The strangers had taken care to block traffic and have the kidnapping filmed by a site known for its proximity to the secret services, which will broadcast the scene shortly afterwards.

On July 9, 2021, Suleiman was sentenced to five years in prison, in absentia and in the absence of his defence team an almost unique case in the history of trials in Morocco, for “sexual assault” against young Adam.

Until his abduction, my husband held the position of a columnist for the daily Akhbar al Yaoum, replacing its founder, Tawfik Bouachrine, sentenced on October 25, 2019, to 15 years in prison for “rape” and “trafficking in human beings”.

A 122-day hunger strike

Akhbar al Yaoum had become an obsession with the regime because of its editorial line critical of the violations of human rights and had been the subject since almost its founding in 2009 of harassment and campaigns by the official and unofficial media as well as a systematic boycott from advertisers. On August 31, 2019, a journalist from the daily, Hajar Raissouni, niece of Soulaiman, was arrested and sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for “illegal abortion” and “sex outside marriage” before being pardoned on October 16, 2019, by the king in the face of worldwide outcry.

Two weeks before his abduction, Soulaiman had been the subject of a campaign of rare violence by the official and semi-official media, going so far as to threaten him with death. We have identified more than sixty articles clearly falling under the anti-defamation law without any outlet pursued by the justice department.

Once in the hands of his jailers, Soulaiman was denied the right to communicate with a lawyer for 20 days. After the official announcement of his indictment, the conditions of his arrest as well as the flagrant violations of his rights led him to begin a hunger strike which lasted 122 days during which he only accepted to take his medication and some spoonfuls of honey. During this time, he never stopped demanding the right to parole and a fair trial where he could demonstrate his innocence. His condition had deteriorated so badly that he went into a coma for an entire day after losing his balance and hitting the wall of his cell with his head.

The investigation lasted nine months during which Soulaiman was kept in solitary confinement and forbidden to speak to anyone, while the investigating judge only made him appear once every two months. During this time, the defence team, made up of several lawyers, demolished all the charges against him, constantly calling for his parole, each time being rejected for no reason.

An almost empty file

Soulaiman appeared for the first time before the Casablanca Court of First Instance on February 9, 2021, charged of “indecent assault” and “kidnapping”. To support the accusation, the prosecutor only filed against Soulaiman the message posted on Facebook by the “victim”, a document claiming to be a conversation between young Adam and Soulaiman also on Facebook as well as an audio recording. It was easy for the defence committee to demonstrate that these documents in no way incriminated Soulaiman but, on the contrary, exonerated him of any accusation. In addition, the other party acknowledged that the maid was in our small apartment the day the crime allegedly occurred. So why did the court refuse to hear this unique witness despite repeated requests from the defence?

Young Adam never mentioned any incident that allegedly happened on September 15, 2018, at our home as he called us several times to talk about the difficulties he was facing in the society at large and in his own family, saying that his father had hit him and asking me to help him write a letter to Amnesty International because he wanted to leave the country illegally and seek political asylum in a country where homosexuality is not a crime. Questioned during the trial about these facts, the young man refused to answer or denied despite the evidence that we sent to justice.

This case raises many unanswered questions. How did the judicial police find the real name of the “victim” when he only used a pseudonym? Why was my husband’s custody extended for more than 48 hours when the “culprit” was not caught in the act? Why did the civil party remove the Facebook post where he reports the attack? Why did the police try to break into our apartment, terrorising our child, while Suleiman was in custody? Since when do Moroccan police and judicial authorities claim to defend the LGBT community when, according to a report by Human Rights Watch, homosexuals are often mistreated in police stations? And finally, why are independent journalists accused of sexual offences?

All the organisations for the defence of human rights, national and international, have expressed their conviction that the arrest of Soulaiman is in retaliation for his editorials or their certainty that the regime, through these accusations, aims to silence the few free voices like that of Tawfik Bouachrine and Omar Radi.

It has been a year and a half since my husband, whose appeal against his conviction is pending, has been unjustly imprisoned. I ask for his release pending the judgment of the court.

Casablanca, January 26, 2022