New York, April 7, 2015--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the sentencing of Moroccan press freedom advocate Hicham Mansouri, who was handed a 10-month prison term and $4,057 fine over adultery charges by Rabat's Court of First Instance on March 30, according to local and international news reports.
Mansouri is a project manager for the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI), a group formed in 2011 to support journalists reporting on a variety of issues in the country, some of which are politically sensitive. He told the court he had been working on a report about alleged Internet surveillance of activists and journalists by the Moroccan authorities before his arrest, Samad Iach, a colleague of Mansouri's, told CPJ.
Mansouri's lawyer and his colleagues at AMJI claim the charges against Mansouri and his partner were trumped up to punish Mansouri for his work.
At least 10 police officers in civilian clothes arrested Mansouri on March 17 at his home in the Agdal neighborhood of Rabat, according to Dublin-based international human rights group, Front Line Defenders. He was beaten and stripped of his clothes in his home, and was not immediately given a reason for his arrest, Front Line Defenders said.
Abdelaziz Noueydi, Mansouri's lawyer, told CPJ that Mansouri was stripped naked to give the appearance that he was engaged in adultery with the woman he was with, later identified by local news to beMansouri's partner. Police maintained that they caught him naked in the act, Noueydi said. Adultery is a criminal offense punishable by up to a year in prison under Morocco's criminal code.
"It is a tactic the government has used in the past against opposition groups and rights activists in order to tarnish their public image," Noueydi told CPJ. Mansouri's partner, who has not been named, told the court she is separated and lives apart from her husband. She testified that she described herself as divorced to Mansouri, despite police pressure to implicate him in knowingly having an affair with her, Noueydi said. She received a 10-month sentence for adultery.
"The excessive and humiliating way Mansouri was arrested raises suspicions about the retaliatory nature of the charges," said Sherif Mansour, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "Moroccan authorities should immediately drop the charges against Mansouri and investigate the police officers who arrested him."
Noueydi said that Mansouri's arrest was based on a police report issued on February 10, a copy of which CPJ obtained, claiming that his doorman and neighbors reported he was using his apartment for prostitution. The doorman and 14 of the 17 neighbors listed in the report made statements to the court in March denying that they ever said this, Maati Monjib, head of prisoners of conscience organization Freedom Now told CPJ. Noueydi confirmed that based on this, the charge that Mansouri was housing a brothel was dropped by the court and only the adultery charge was upheld.
Mansouri is suffering because of poor conditions where he is being held in Zaki prison in the city of Sale, Noueydi said. "He is being held in an overcrowded, poorly ventilated cell, and has difficulty breathing due to the constant cigarette smoking around him," Noueydi said.
Since the Arab Spring protests in early 2011, Moroccan authorities have increasingly used charges related to sexual conduct to tarnish the reputation of journalists and activists critical of the government, Monjib told CPJ.
According to local media and groups campaigning for his release, Mansouri is involved with February 20, a movement formed in 2011 to demand political and constitutional change in Morocco.
Mansouri was severely beaten by two men last September in an attack widely believed to be politically motivated, Iach told CPJ. They did not steal anything from him but beat him so badly that he needed six weeks to recover, he said, adding that no arrests have yet been made.
Mansouri's arrest coincides with a government crackdown on several rights organizations, which was highlighted in a statement to the U.N. Human Rights Council on March 17. The statement, from a group of regional human rights groups, detailed violations against journalists and rights workers in Morocco.
When News Breaks Out, We Break In. (The 2014 Bloggies Finalist)