Moroccan journalist Soulaiman Raissouni was arrested Friday 22nd May in front of his house in Casablanca. Since then, he has been placed in police custody following a complaint lodged against him by a homosexual man. Raissouni, who is the editor-in-chief of Arabic-language newspaper Akhbar Al Yaoum, which is being regarded as the newspaper that is most critical of Morocco’s government, is reportedly accused of sexual assault two years ago. The man claimed he did not want to talk about the assault at the time because he “feared” criticism and repercussions due to the country’s stance on same sex-relations. Article 489 of Morocco’s penal code stipulates same-sex relations are illegal. Offenders face prison sentences of up to three years and a fine of up MAD 1,200 ($120). Raissouni has denied the accusation.
The hearing comes after two of the editor’s colleagues have also faced high-profile court cases since 2019. Raissouni’s niece, Hajar Raissouni, who is a journalist at the same newspaper, faced trial last year on charges of having an abortion, but received a royal pardon after the case drew widespread outrage.
Mixed responses from civil society organizations
The case has stirred debate between Raissouni’s supporters, who question the accusation’s accuracy, and others who are withholding judgment pending legal proceedings. The North Africa office of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) wrote on Twitter that “Raissouni has been targeted by a smear campaign for the past few days by media close to intelligence services.” Also others point in this direction. “We have fears this is another politically motivated case because it comes after a campaign targeting Soulimane’s reputation in pro-establishment media,” said Khadija Riadi, an activist with the Moroccan rights group AMDH.
The National Union of the Moroccan Press has issued a more neutral statement on the case. Its press release said that the union is following the case of Akhbar Al Yaoum’s editor-in-chief with “great concern”. While expressing respect for the country’s judicial system, the statement further said that the charges attributed to Raissouni are “still in need of further careful investigation as the complainant accusations date back” two years. More vocal has been Ibtissame Lachgar, founder of a feminist group in Morocco which supports gay rights. She said that taking Raissouni’s side in the case before the trial encouraged rape culture.