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Swallow your tongue or we'll implicate you with sexual abuse and you'll die alone in a dungeon

Swallow your tongue or we'll implicate you with sexual abuse and you'll die alone in a dungeon

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English Freedom of Expression

Thursday 17 March 202212:20 pm
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إنذار أخير! ابلع لسانك... سنلطخ سمعتك بقضية جنسية، وستموت حياً ووحيداً في زنزانة

You will die alive and alone in a dungeon, and we will stop your life, and everything will be over for you, just because we can... We will destroy you, we will tarnish your reputation which is all your capital, and your friends will abandon you, and they will question your purity before they doubt your innocence, and some of them may even eat your flesh before it has become mature, and the bravest and most daring of them will fear to come into the arena to struggle for you… These are not just threats or imaginary simulations, you, Moroccan journalist, will not really see the sun for many years. Your isolation will increase, the walls of your cell in the Okacha prison will swallow the best years of your life. The others will remain spectators. And disability will kill them, and every day will witness the birth of a new barricade, uprooting new parts of public space that is semi-closed from the basis. It is the same space in which you practiced your temptation to resist the signals of prohibition when your freedom was breeding like mushrooms, your temptation that turned into a curse.

You will die alive and alone in a dungeon, and we will stop your life, and everything will be over for you, just because we can... We will destroy you, we will tarnish your reputation which is all your capital, and your friends will abandon you #Morocco

This is part of a dense scene, but it cannot be described. We have tried all the words that were used, but they do not help us with a decent description of a tragedy that has been going on for more than a year and a half. What will we say? Or rather what will I say? And where do I start? How should this story be told? Do I write an elegy or a word of courage that lifts the spirits of my comrades who are behind prison bars? Or shall I write about losing the will to speak, about my feelings becoming dry and neutral, and what it means to try to start a new life?

On the Rue des États Unis in the capital Tunis, on a daily walk past the offices of the Tunisian Journalists Syndicate - after waking up late due to sleep medications and antidepressants – I have contradictory feelings coexisting inside me. On the wall of the syndicate headquarters, a large picture of my two absent colleagues and friends Omar Radi and Suleiman Raissouni was displayed. I stop for a few minutes and stare at the picture, take a new photo of it, and go to an undefined destination with confused thoughts swarming through my mind.

How can a life in an instant turn into mere pictures in other countries? Your friends are still there and their lives have been forcibly interrupted as they face a whole system that has made it its own battle to abuse them and kill them both psychologically and symbolically. You remember their families - Baba Driss, Mama Fatiha and Kholoud - who know the way to Okacha prison better than their own neighborhoods in which they reside, because of the ludicrous semi-trials they have been subjected to again these days, without being allowed to defend themselves before judges who believe that supererogatory prayers and Chaoual (Islamic month)  fasting will forgive their sins. And you who had to choose between a trial in absentia or continuing to participate in this theatre play, so lonely and depressed and more dead inside than ever, you search for reasons to wake up the next day and you don't find them, and you find no consolation, and sometimes you are tormented by the survivors guilt, and you wonder if you are one of the survivors, and this trauma is getting stronger day by day.

Judiciary... False witness

On the 3rd of this March, and before it on the 23rd of last February, and as expected, no miracles took place, and the Court of Appeal in the city of Casablanca confirmed the judicial “death” sentences issued in the first instance against the two journalists, Omar Radi and Suleiman Raissouni, who have been arbitrarily detained for almost two years.

Prosecution of Suleiman Raissouni was based on a Facebook post in which its owner was alleging that he was sexually assaulted by Raissouni. The court upheld the first-instance sentence of five years in prison for the journalist, which was issued in the absence of the accused, who was on a long hunger strike that lasted 122 days. Omar Radi was prosecuted on a mixture of charges that combine rape and dealing with foreign parties. The Court of Appeal confirmed the injustice issued in the first instance by convicting Omar Radi and imprisoning him for six years, and the same sentence was issued against me to one year in prison.

Once again, the judges chose to ignore all defence demands to hear witnesses, turning a deaf ear to the new legal and technical evidence and arguments presented by lawyers in lengthy arguments that stretched for weeks. During his last speech and during his interrogation, Suleiman Raissouni listed dozens of contradictions in the accounts of the alleged victim (civil claimant in the trial), and the gaps and flaws in the conclusions of the judicial police and the observations of the investigating judge.

During the last arguments for my defence and for Omar Radi, the lawyers challenged the prosecutor to present the list of countries or foreign agents Omar is accused of communicating with, or the sensitive confidential information he provided to them and that harmed the diplomatic status of the country, and they presented sufficient arguments for the lack of any material evidence for the allegations of "sexual assault".

It was believed that adopting a rupture with the Moroccan judicial system during political trials, may be one of the reasons for the tightening of sentences, and this is a common analysis that has spread even among human rights defenders, activists and journalists, but it is an assessment that may be valid if it comes to confronting a political system that thinks according to the logic of profit and loss. But this is a system that political science cannot analyse, and it is a model of the transformation of psychological complexes into a mode of governance.

In fact, these trials have proven once again that there is no point in believing in the judicial path in such cases, that such trials do not aim at ordering truth or access to justice and fairness, and that in the end these cases are discussed before the court just because of poetic necessity, and in order to impart legitimacy over the judicial system and giving the impression that it is a matter of regular and routine criminal trials.

The judges handling such files know in advance what to do once the files are presented to them. And the facts of the trials, of which I witnessed many, revealed that, in fact, they did not even bother to carefully read the files and records, but suffice in re-reading the same questions posed by the police or the investigative judge. Esteemed judge, why make an extra effort when a journalist is standing before you, when you are not required to do so? Thus, you just have to read the titles of the charges, and look for the appropriate punishment in the Criminal Penal Code and that's enough.

For these trials, the authority chooses the same investigative judge for all cases, and the same sitting judges. Only two or three judges exchange the same cases. Rather, this case is with judge X during the initial stage, and a similar case with judge Y during the preliminary stage, and then the two judges themselves exchange cases during the appeal stage, according to the Putin-Medvedev approach. This happened again and again: the case of Taoufik Bouachrine, the case of Omar Radi, the Rif movement (Hirak), and others. Is there more surrealism than this?

When I became a "complication in the story"

The rule says that the court considers what is presented and discussed in front of the court. But judges in Morocco do not suffice with merely ignoring what is said in front of them, and interpreting it arbitrarily or building false and imaginary speculations on it, they even sometimes resort to falsifying and distorting it while writing it down, in order to harm the prosecuted individuals. This is what happened to me personally in the first instance of our trial, of me and my colleague Omar Radi, who still resists the executioner with his distinctive smile and his honesty that is unbearably sincere.

Judges in Morocco do not suffice with merely ignoring what's said in front of them, they resort to falsifying to harm the prosecuted. That's what happened to me and my colleague Omar Radi, who still resists the executioner with a distinctive smile.

On page 237 of the text of the initial ruling, the court says that I “did not deny hearing the main accused threaten the complainant with triple rape,” which is contrary to what I said in a public session in the presence of dozens of citizens and national and international human rights observers, as I categorically denied these allegations, both before the court and during more than four investigative sessions confirmed by the records of the Royal Gendarmerie and the investigative judge.

For sure, this is not just a typographical error, or an oversight, because the text of the ruling uses this fabricated and distorted statement to conclude my involvement, and the guilt of Radi when the ruling says: “...This is undoubtedly a frightening and confusing matter for a female who is assaulted by a human wolf and another person who, according to his whims, principles and morals, may attack her at any time."

I expected everything: that my statements would be distorted by the gendarmerie, and that the investigative judge in his report would ignore my statements in their entirety by virtue of the fact that they remain closed investigations, but I did not imagine that the audacity would reach the point of falsifying what was said in public, and then using it as one of the means of proving the conviction.

In the end, when the absurdity exceeded the pattern of imagination and ideas, it was not surprising at all. Me being prosecuted is basically a typical story of how the sacred machine spins. The lesson to be directed was that no one can dare to disrupt it. How to make a bad movie without dialogue or script, and insist on selling it to the public, and take the first prizes because you are an influential person.

Days after Omar's imprisonment, I received indirect warning messages, through publications of the media outlets of the security services, and through hundreds of fake accounts on social sites. It was clear that my testimony had become a problem for the director of the film, and the anger was intense, and perhaps the self-anger over this abject failure to formulate a balanced plot was stronger than their anger at me. A website demanded the Public Prosecution to take responsibility in my case.

Later, I got messages from the regular mediators - in this case from inside the press corps - and they were explicit: "You can still get it done, you're not our main target, you can save yourself...". This is a classic style with a Moroccan touch; Intimidation, then a last attempt to feel the pulse before making the final decision. I left the message unanswered... Ignoring in such cases is not neutral from the point of view of those who love the broth, but rather a very confusing and heavy element, because complacency with the order or accepting it will cause a strong shake in the fortress of fear, and may create new cases of challenge that the psychology of power does not accept. ...So this complicating character in the story had to be eliminated. I had to be disposed of, and I too was dragged into false accusations.

On the day of the first judgment pronouncement, I said before the court: “For ten months, since it was decided to accuse and prosecute me on the accusation of participation, I have been waiting for the trial to begin until I would be confronted with the foundations and basis on which the Public Prosecution relied the accusation. I was expecting the Public Prosecution would confront me with evidence and convincing proof but I was surprised that the indictment sadly is just a constructed statement.

The Public Prosecution office, in bad faith, and when it lacks any proof, resorts to invention and creativity, when the goal to be achieved is to bring down a person who poses a problem, so it tries to build an accusation on the basis of interpretations, scenarios and projections that fit this goal, without stating any evidence to that effect. Rather they work on an illogical link between things and events without any relationship or link between them.

Morocco's Public Prosecutor, in bad faith, and when proof is lacking, resorts to creativity when the goal is to bring down a person who poses a problem, building accusations on the basis of interpretations and projections that fit this goal.

I explained to the court that it was of the highest absurdity that I was to be charged, two months after the decision to prosecute my colleague Omar Radi while in custody, and I challenged them to tell us what news they had found after two months since interrogating me as a witness to the supposed criminal incident? What was not available from the data or what did the Prosecution neglect at the time? My statements were well known, and not new, and a confrontation had taken place between me and the rest of the parties to the case.

In one of the sessions, the representative of the Public Prosecution said that they were convinced that I was involved and had agreed to commit the alleged crime, but the Prosecution did not tell the court what made them constitute this conviction, they were only guessing that I was on the watch and I was guarding the accused. The investigative judge did not reach any convincing proof during three investigation sessions. He justified my prosecution by the decision that he had the right to form his conviction based on the testimony of the complainant, and proceeded from a personal and moral perception regarding the logic and nature of intimate relations in Moroccan society, as it is not appropriate, according to him, to conduct them in the presence of another person, which is the same logic adopted by the court in justifying a conviction of Omar Radi, when the court stated it is impossible to accept a "sound mind" would do this.

The court chooses to falsify the testimony of whomever it wants, to certify the testimony of whomever it wants, and to approve the statements it deems appropriate and fitting to the already known ruling, and it excludes statements that do not go in the same direction, or that would confuse the written scenario. The court can even accredit witnesses who did not witness the incident on which the accusation is based. This is what happened in our case.

In the alleged incident of sexual assault, the defence team of me and Omar Radi presented compelling technical evidence that the statements of the person presented as a witness to the claim are not serious, since he had been lying about his family status and the nature of his relationship with the complainant, and the impossibility of direct communication with her at the time she claims, according to the data presented by her  defence. The court also rejected, without providing any justification, the defence team's demands to examine the testimony of the prosecution witness, summoning him to court, and independent verification of the validity of belated medical evidence, and its relevance to the case.

How to win a trial and lose a judgment

I was following the stages of the appeal stage in which I was being tried in absentia, after having left the country, through tweets from the remaining colleagues who are still covering these trials. Most of them are freelancers, or they are not currently working. During the initial stage of the trial, pressure was put on a number of journalists to stop attending and covering the trials of journalists independently. The pressure certainly paid off, and a number of journalists stopped covering the trials. The message was clear: There is no room for impartiality... The pressures and smear campaigns continued during the appeal stage and even after the verdicts were issued, and my colleague Aida Alami received her gift on the occasion of International Women's Day: death threats.

These appeal trials were an exact copy of the initial trials. The same ill-intentioned and surreal questions were repeated by the judge or by the representative of the Public Prosecution, the latter who combined two cases of two different natures into one case: “rape” and “contacts with foreign parties” ...

The scene was raising sarcasm, pity and disgust, and the questions were swinging from the colour of sofas and the positions of sexual intercourse to questions about the Rif Protest Movement (Hirak), foreign companies, diplomats and travels abroad.

During these show trials, my imprisoned colleagues, despite the provocative questions and the prejudices of the judges, kept their nerves and bravely faced this impudence and they answered clearly. They had no illusions about the results or the possibility of impartiality by the judges who made no secret of their indifference while the defendants gave their account, and some of the judges even fell into a deep sleep. Beforehand we already knew we had lost the judgment, but we could still have won the trial. It was important that this trial would turn into a trial of the Public Prosecution itself, or rather a trial of the flaws in the judicial system, and a comprehensive trial of the flaws of a state run by hatred.

Omar Radi and Suleiman Raissouni excelled in refuting the accusations against them, and presented before the court dozens of contradictions and loopholes in the accounts on which these accusations were based. They were victorious in the court of public opinion, which was becoming more and more certain of their innocence as the court sessions progressed and the "alleged evidence" was presented. The magic turned against the sorcerer; the scriptwriter of these cases wanted to expose the defendants to a trial by public opinion, but the opposite happened.

Sexual strategy...the last torture ritual

In recent years, the state has resorted to fabricating ethical cases to eliminate critical voices, especially in the press. The purpose of this was to weaken popular sympathy with them by establishing a corrupt mental image of them, embarrassing those in solidarity with them in the human rights community, and depriving them of the support of human rights organizations in the world. The state did not want them to become heroes in the eyes of the people, but rather to tarnish their reputation and dishonor them. The second objective was to send veiled threatening messages to the rest: they might suffer the same fate. The plan almost worked...

In the face of similar accusations in cases of sexual assault, the suspicion becomes very reasonable, and reluctance to produce clear positions is legitimate, so you must first convince your surroundings, before trying to persuade the world.

After the arrests there was almost a terrible silence. We needed to absorb the shock before thinking about how to confront the situation and how to lead advocacy and solidarity campaigns and advocate for the detainees. It was like playing a rematch in football after losing 0-4 in the first leg.

But these difficulties and constraints were gradually overcome. With the passage of time, the volume of solidarity began to grow, and the public's awareness of the nature of these issues increased. Although the number of activists on the ground in the solidarity committees was not large, the authority, on the other hand, dealt with great emotion with most of the demonstration calling for the release of detainees, or statements of national solidarity, or any activities aiming at publicizing the issues and conditions of detainees.

The state lost its bet on the external silence, due to the sensitivity of the accusations. Most human rights organizations adopted the cases of journalists detained in Morocco, and criticized the lack of judicial procedures in terms of a fair trial, and expressed their fear that these prosecutions on ethical issues would turn into a self-standing pattern used by the state in Morocco to suppress critical voices.

Huge money was spent, and entire state institutions were employed to legitimize these cases and portray them as normal criminal cases. Entire television programs on public channels were devoted to attack the detained journalists and those in solidarity with them, and to defend the “independence of the Moroccan judiciary” in the face of what was considered pressure exerted by international organizations on Morocco. The establishment of an association for the defence of "rape victims" was founded. It was funded by the same lawyers who plead against the accused. However, the association did not adopt any cases other than those in which journalists are pursued, while one of its founding members was accused of raping his domestic helper.

Huge money was spent, and entire state institutions were employed to legitimize these cases. Entire TV programs were devoted to attack the detained journalists and those in solidarity with them, and to defend the “independence of the Moroccan judiciary”.

At that time, the official narrative, backed by statements from para-security bodies, was in confrontation with the national and international consensus on the justice of our cases. The statements of the National Press Syndicate, the Ministerial Delegate for Human Rights, and the Hassaniya Association of Judges were identical, while the National Council for Human Rights in its statements whitewashed the violations that the judicial track knew in these cases. Meanwhile the prison department, whose president was acting as a minister of war, issued a statement almost every day in which the department attacked detainees and their families, describing them as "criminals".

"Our positions are clear. All allegations of sexual assault and complaints issued, by any party, and against any party, should be taken seriously, and a transparent, impartial, deep and neutral investigation should be opened in them, without preconceived ideas, in order to reach the truth, which is not what happened in this case. If the investigation would have gone into such lengths, the file would not have reached the court in the first place. In fact, from the beginning we were treated as if we were convicts whose guilt needed to be proven... Rape cases are a tragedy and not a commercial asset, and they should not be a means of obtaining easy money, or a way to settle scores with an annoying voice..." I said in my last speech before the Court of First Instance more than eight months ago, asking the court to assume its historical responsibility, to rule against injustice, and to triumph for justice.

Certainly, not even for a moment was I convinced of the Court's ability to bear this historic responsibility. They were only necessary words to heal from despair, and so as not to reach the stage of infidelity about my country, and most importantly, to emphasize the line and approach we were keen to adopt from the beginning in the solidarity and plea committees: that we remain loyal to the legal framework, and that our battle is directed against the actual perpetrators of crimes, not against their tools... It is a symbolic struggle.

As expected, for undisclosed but obvious reasons, the appeal trial was not to change anything of the predetermined fate of the rulings issued against Omar and Suleiman. Some officials do not hide this in private, and behind the scenes they utter the real accusation: Suleiman is in prison because he wrote a blog that was considered harsh, and Omar is detained for publicly criticizing a powerful security official in the country, and because he dared to announce that his mobile phone was infected with spyware (Pegasus).

Before being dragged into this ordeal, the two journalists received dozens of direct and indirect warnings from some who presented themselves as mediators between higher authorities and society. In fact - and I have seen part of the content of these messages that were sent from time to time - they were not warnings, but rather threats and final warnings to journalists, to assimilate into a system of general fear, otherwise they would regret the day that regret is useless, and "the gates of Hell" would be opened.

In Omar’s case, the last warning was clear and he says that his insistence on organizing a press conference in which he defended his innocence of the espionage charges after the marathon investigations in front of the National Division of the Judicial Police, was the line of no return… This happened right after the trap that was set for me and him, after they had been tracking and following us for several days. It happened right after we left a restaurant in Casablanca, where we were provoked and attempted to attack by a camera man working for the “Chouf TV” website, which is funded by the security services.

But Omar remained true to himself, uncompromising, and he refused to be locked up in this semi-security barracks where civilians like us are sometimes allowed out for a walk and say some unobtrusive talk. He organized his seminar and prepared himself for this arrest, which was approaching day by day, and he knew that his time had come, and he asked me to remain steadfast and coherent.

“...will the court allow me to go back to the 1990s in Tunisia, where journalists, dissidents and intellectuals were tried on sexual charges, where they used to bring fake victims, fake human rights defenders, and a yellow press to whitewash these crimes of file fabrication. But later, public hearings were organized for the real victims. The truth was revealed, and the fake victims, the fake jurists and the yellow press became called thugs.” In his last speech during this superstitious trial, Omar referred to the Tunisian model during Ben Ali’s rule with these words.

The spectacle is not new at all and is not a Moroccan invention. These regimes learn from the same textbook. The story of officer Mowafi, or rather, Safwat al-Sharif, “The Perversion of the Egyptian Intelligence in 1968”, still retains much of its attraction and infuses many vile thoughts into the sick heads of the masses of psychopaths who operate the terror devices with long ears and eyes that do not sleep, which break into people's bedrooms and sneak on their intimacy to be used for humiliation and subjugation... Security minds that store a huge energy of evil, obsessed with sex toys. The state has swallowed itself during these cursed years and has turned into a "cabaret".

* The article expresses the author’s point of view and not necessarily the opinion of Raseef22

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