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A journalist is imprisoned in Morocco with 10 false allegations

A journalist is imprisoned in Morocco with 10 false allegations

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English Freedom of Expression

Thursday 3 March 202211:50 am
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

لماذا يُسجن صحافي في المغرب بـ"عشرة ادّعاءات كاذبة"؟

He spends a warm week with his family as they prepare to welcome Eid, but suddenly joy turns into anxiety, after a person under a pseudonym published a post on his account accusing him of sexually assaulting him, before deleting it and replacing it with another one detailing different events. Thus begins a series of contradicting statements and testimonies from the plaintiff following the arrest of Suleiman Raissouni, from the police report to the confrontation and then to the presiding judge.

“He whose statements contradict one another, has invalid arguments”. A jurisprudential rule in the Moroccan judiciary indicates that usually the end of such cases will most likely be with the innocence of the suspect, and the invalidity of the plaintiff’s claim. But the end of Raissouni’s trial turned out quite differently.

On the night of February 24, the Casablanca appeals court upheld the trial judgement sentence to imprison Suleiman for five years for “sexual assault” against a young man, in a case that has drawn wide attention and demands for his release since his arrest in 2020.

A forensic examination at thePolice’s lab for digital trace analysis on Raissouni’s phone, had proven, according to his defense, that “there are no traces of a conversation between him and the plaintiff.”

Raissouni, editor-in-chief of the defunct daily Akhbar Al Youm, was known for his analytic editorials that didn’t shy from criticizing the authorities.

During the court session, which went on for more than nine hours, Raissouni deemed his trial “political”. He reiterated his innocence, describing the civil claimant’s statements as “contradictory” by pointing out that “they included ten false allegations” from the beginning of the record to the appeal stage.

For his part, the defense of the detained journalist refused that the court would issue its last appeal ruling, “because the case file is not ready,” noting the “absence of two crucial conclusive documents in the case file, despite the fact that he had previously requested that they be included inside and that he could view them.” This has to do with the results of a submission sent to the telecommunications company regarding two numbers used by the civil claimant, and as a result of a technical occurrence, the defense demanded that it be done on the complainant’s phone.

While speaking to Raseef22, Miloud Kandil, Raissouni’s defense lawyer, said that the inconsistencies and discrepancies that were recorded “can only result in proving the innocence of the accused, but unfortunately the court had a different opinion.” He further noted that the defense team tried to use all means to clarify this during the proceedings and agreed to repeatedly alert the court to the contradictions that came from the complainant’s statements, “because what had been repeated was decided,” as he put it.

Kandil points out that the defense team is waiting for the court’s decision, which will be issued in the coming days, to justify the verdict. When asked the question, ‘Why did you refuse to respond to the demands for the documents and procedures that are considered “decisive” in Suleiman’s case file?’, he answers, “Otherwise, we will have to resort to the Court of Cassation in order to overturn this decision”.

Inconsistencies and false claims

Lawyer Miloud Kandil tells Raseef22 that one of the many contradictions that were noted is how the plaintiff kept providing a different description of Suleiman’s house every time, giving more than one account about the way he was lured into the house, as well as whether the maid happened to be present inside the house or not.

In addition, he went from detailing in his post about how he resisted Suleiman and pushed him away, to “stating in court about how he surrendered without resistance because his situation did not allow anything otherwise.”

Suleiman’s defense also pointed out “the inconsistencies in the claimant’s statements when he mentioned the name of the psychiatrist he claimed to have gone to after the attack. He provided a name that was proven did not exist in any records before changing it in another statement.” Not to mention him stating that he had not met the suspect before September 14, 2018, while the screenshots taken show the date of September 11 of the same year in the conversations that the defense said were with an account bearing just the name of ‘Suleiman’, not “Suleiman Raissouni.”

For his part, Suleiman spoke of “ten false allegations”, during his final statement before court, including the plaintiff’s claims in the police incident report on May 21, 2020: “I met him (Suleiman) near his residence, and accompanied him to the apartment.” Then, less than 48 hours later, he says in the confrontation record: “I arrived at your house after you directed me through a phone call, up until you opened the apartment door for me.”

He commented, “Of course, there is no room to forget such an important detail as this one. It seems that the motive behind completely changing the story is to match the facts with the charges.”

Raissouni also referred to the plaintiff’s statement in the first post, which he admitted before court that he had changed: “I went to a psychiatrist for three months in order to try to forget the incident,” before stating before the investigating judge that he had “never visited a psychiatrist, not for a day or for three days.”

The detained journalist wondered: “Why did the police adopt the second post that is devoid of the psychiatrist’s story and the three months of therapy, and turned a blind eye to the first post?” He then replied, “It seems that sacrificing the story of three months of therapy was out of fear that the court would demand proof of this.”

During the last session at the Casablanca court of appeal, Raissouni’s defense pointed out before the judge that the complainant refrained from answering 70 percent of the defense’s questions, unlike the accused, “noting that the Code of Criminal Procedure grants this right to the accused, and does not provide for it in favor of the civil claimant.”

A case of retaliation

The former head of the Moroccan League for the Defense of Human Rights (LMDDH), Mohamed al-Zahari, believes that the appeal verdict against journalist Suleiman Raissouni was “shocking”, noting that, apart from the primary stage, Suleiman “continued to attend all phases of the trial, and accompanied his defense with strength and courage to refute the allegations of the complainant. With proof and evidence, he showed his innocence of the charges against him during his final address in a lengthy plea that he had written down over twenty-six pages.”

Al-Zahari, while speaking with Raseef22, said that the defense pleadings and Suleiman’s address raise many questions, including: “How is Suleiman’s phone seized and operated upon even though the Public Prosecution’s instructions were to hear its contents for the accusation against him? In return, examining the phone of the accusing party was refused, and he even justified not having the phone during the beginning of the follow-up procedure because he gifted it to his friend?” This comes despite the fact that the follow-up against Suleiman “is a conversation that is recorded in the phone’s memory and in messages via the Messenger application?”

A technical examination carried out by the Judicial Police’s lab for digital trace analysis on Raissouni’s phone, under the supervision of a representative had proven, according to his defense, that “there are no traces of a conversation between him and the plaintiff.” He further remarks on the difficulty of getting rid of the digital trace, because “the laboratory can even extract deleted conversations, and even attempts to erase them are recorded in the device’s memory.”

The human rights activist also questioned the fact that, “How can the incident report of a complainant who resides in a distant city, be completed in less than two hours, according to instructions issued by the Public Prosecution Office of Casablanca (the city where Suleiman resides)”. He points out several other questions, such as: “Why didn’t the Public Prosecution stop at the basic fact that the complainant spoke of Suleiman locking the kitchen door with the maid inside using a key, even though the kitchen is American-style and does not have a door?”

“The verdict issued against journalist Suleiman Raissouni is a “clear employment” by the judiciary to settle scores with journalists and opinion writers, just as what had happened with Taoufik Bouachrine, Omar Radi, and others”

And why did the civil party change the content of his statements in a way that would lead to a harsh ruling, “from initially claiming that he had been subjected to sexual harassment to suddenly alleging sexual assault and imprisonment?”, al-Zahari adds.

Al-Zahari stresses that the key to Suleiman’s innocence lies in the “clear masking of the answers that he gave in his speech, and the defense pleadings regarding these questions, which confirmed that the follow-up scenario lacks the conditions of a fair trial, which unfortunately the court did not take into account.”

“Suleiman was subjected to great injustice and a clear case of retaliation because of his opinions and stances, which he expressed through editorials that he published as editor-in-chief of the daily Akhbar Al Youm,” says al-Zahari. He further points out that anyone who follows the case “will infer its vengeful elements, especially by keeping Suleiman within prison walls (before he was convicted), and the accompanying media support for the civil party and those with him.”

Al-Zahari, jurist and head of the Morocco branch of the International Alliance for the Defence of Rights and Freedoms (AIDL), sees the verdict issued against journalist Suleiman Raissouni as a “clear employment” by the judiciary to settle scores with journalists and opinion writers, just as what had happened with Taoufik Bouachrine, Omar Radi, and others,” appealing to the authorities to put an end to this, as well as for the release of detainees because the economic and social conditions of the nation necessitates it.

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