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Morocco jails journalist for tweet 'insulting' a judge

Moroccan journalist Omar Radi [Twitter]
Moroccan journalist Omar Radi, 27 December 2019 [Twitter]

Moroccan journalist and rights activist Omar Radi was yesterday handed a four-month suspended sentence and a $52 fine on charges of insulting a judge on Twitter.

Radi was indicted over a tweet on 6 April last year, in which he said: "Let us all remember Appeals Judge Lahcen Tolfi, the enforcer against our brothers. In many regimes, small-time henchmen like him come back begging, later, claiming they were only 'carrying out orders'. No forgetting or forgiveness with such undignified officials."

The tweet was published after Tolfi upheld the trial court's verdict to sentence leaders of largely peaceful protests, which took place in late 2016 and early 2017 in northern Morocco, to up to 20 years in jail.

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Radi was initially summoned for questioning on 16 April for a series of tweets he posted criticising a magazine feature which favoured Judge Tolfi, but was released.

Summoned for questioning a second time on 25 December, Radi's lawyers said the activist was interrogated for 30 minutes about the tweet of 6 April.

Radi was then charged with "insulting a magistrate" under penal code 263, he was released on bail on 31 December, with a hearing set for 2 January.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Radi's tweet was aimed at the judge in person, and not at the judiciary as a whole. Radi and his lawyers denied the claim.

After the verdict Radi, 33, told Reuters that he intends to appeal the decision. Adding "I was expecting to be acquitted as I am not guilt and was only expressing my own opinion."

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Radi's case has sparked a wave of national and international solidarity, with local rights groups condemning the use of the penal code, rather than the publishing code, to try free speech cases.

The publishing code has had no provision for jail sentences since a reform in 2016.

Amnesty International criticised the case, saying that "he should never have been put on trial in the first place or sentenced for expressing peaceful views on social media. This sentence reinforces the message that anyone in Morocco who stands up for human rights will be punished."

In recent months, several activists and social media users have faced detention after criticising the monarchy or government online.

READ: Protests in Morocco demanding improvement of social and human rights conditions

Government spokesman Hassan Abyaba said there is a "difference between free speech and committing felonies"

Adding that "any citizen, be it a doctor, a teacher or a journalist, who commits felonies are punished by the law".

However, a report by the National Solidarity Committee said that in December alone, six people were convicted by Moroccan courts, and received jail sentences of six months to four years for criticising living conditions in the country.

While teenager Hamza Asbaar was sentenced to four years in prison for publishing the lyrics to popular rap song 'Long Live the People', whose singer is spending one year in jail.

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