Before his brutal murder, journalist Jamal Khashoggi warned his friend – a prominent Moroccan journalist – that he was being targeted by Saudi Arabia for publishing editorials in his newspaper criticising Saudi Arabia and policies of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
According to his wife, Moroccan journalist Taoufik Bouachrine received a message from Khashoggi prior to his brutal killing in Istanbul, informing her husband that his life was in danger. The concern of the slain journalist was sent months before 49-year-old Bouachrine was arrested in Morocco and jailed for offences he has consistently denied.
His wife, 43-year-old Asmae Moussaoui has claimed that her husband was arrested as a result of Saudi pressure on Morocco. She dismissed the charges against Bouachrine, who was given a 12-year sentence for multiple counts of rape, sexual assault and people-trafficking. His trial, which took place in November 2018, has been bogged by accusations of foul play because independent observers were banned.
Moussaoui told the Guardian that her husband had confided to her that Saudi Arabia had “complained about me” to the Moroccan government. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who is said to have been “furious and enraged because of what [Bouachrine had] published on him”, is alleged to be the source of the complaint against Bouachrine.
It’s suggested that the Moroccan government caved to Saudi pressure and that the case against Bouachrine contained discrepancies that undermined the entire trial.
Concern over Bouachrine’s trial and subsequent sentencing has been raised by the UN. A working group of the world body’s Human Rights Council condemned Morocco for incarcerating Bouachrine and called for his immediate release by royal pardon.
The UN has raised serious questions over the trial and described the evidence as: “highly contested and clearly not conclusive”. The UN working group investigating the trial said that there appeared to be “repeated cases of intimidation and coercion by the national authorities” to ensure his conviction.
The treatment of alleged victims of Bouachrine has also raised serious doubts over the case. One of the accusers, Afaf Bernani, was sentenced to six months in jail for filing a complaint against the police claiming her statement was falsified. She has also released a video contradicting the official account.
In a statement to the Guardian, Bernani protested against the injustice. “I the filed a complaint for forgery against the police … but finally, I am the one who finds herself condemned to six months in jail for contempt charges,” she said. She went on to describe her concerns saying: “I am frightened for myself and for my family. On the internet, at the tribunal, I am regularly insulted because I dared to complain about the judicial police and because I did not want to accuse Taoufik. Every day, they do their best to destroy my honour by deliberately lying about me. They are gangsters who want to kill the press.”
In further worrying signs of Riyadh’s war on critics, two Guardian journalists revealed that agents within the kingdom ordered the hacking of their email accounts.
In a recorded conversation discussing whether Saudi Arabia had got away with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Nick Hopkins and Stephanie Kirchgaessner said that a memo was issued to Riyadh’s cyber security team to hack their emails as well as the email of the Guardian, for publishing a story about divisions within the royal family.
A section of the memo which was read out said: “Carry out the penetration of the Guardian newspaper and those who worked on the report that was published. This has to be done in complete secrecy and data has to be gathered as soon as possible.”
The hacking was authorised to uncover the source in Saudi Arabia for the leak behind the Guardian story which reported on attempts by senior royals within the kingdom that were trying to reign in Mohammed Bin Salman.