Urgent Action Update: HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER’S CONVICTION UPHELD (Morocco/Western Sahara: UA 91.22)
February 28, 2023
On 20 February, the Rabat Court of Appeal upheld the conviction against human rights defender Rida Benotmane, imposed by a lower court on 7 November 2022, on charges relating to his social media posts and YouTube videos dating from 2021, in which he criticised the Moroccan government. On appeal, his sentence was reduced from three years to 18 months in prison. He remains held in solitary confinement in Arjate 1 prison in the city of Salé. He must be immediately and unconditionally released as his imprisonment stems solely from the exercise of his right to freedom of expression.
Please take action as-soon-as possible. This Urgent Action expires on April 23, 2023.
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Head of Government of the Kingdom of Morocco
M. Aziz Akhannouch
Palais Royal- Touarga
Twitter: @ChefGov_ma / Facebook: @cg.gov.ma
Her Highness Princess Lalla Joumala
Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco
3508 International Drive NW, Washington, DC 20008
Phone: 202 462 7979 I Fax: 202 462 7643
Email: [email protected]
I am writing to express grave concern about the ongoing arbitrary detention of journalist and human rights defender Rida Benotmane. On 20 February, his conviction on charges stemming solely from the exercise of his right to freedom of expression was upheld on appeal. The judge also reduced his sentence from three years to 18 months in prison after upholding a lower court’s conviction issued in November 2022 on charges of “insulting a body regulated by law”, “insulting public officials while carrying out their duties”, and “broadcasting and distributing false allegations without consent” under Articles 265, 263, and 447-2 of the Penal Code, respectively. The charges are connected to his Facebook posts and YouTube videos dating from 2021, in which he criticised abuses by the Moroccan security forces, called for the release of political detainees and accused the Moroccan government of oppressing and marginalizing free voices and failing to respond to the demands of the Moroccan people. He also warned against security forces’ use of new technologies associated with Covid-19 passports for surveillance, in particular of human rights defenders and pro-democracy activists.
Rida Benotmane is held in conditions violating the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment. He has been kept in prolonged solitary confinement in a cell of around 2.5 by 1.8m in Arjate 1 prison in the city of Salé since his detention in September 2022. His parents told Amnesty International that these conditions weigh heavily on him psychologically, despite his attempts to keep up his morale and retain his dignity. He is only permitted to shower once a week, is isolated from other prisoners, and only allowed out of his cell for a maximum of half an hour per day to walk in a small courtyard accompanied by one other prisoner chosen by the prison administration. Unlike other prisoners, he is only permitted family visits once every 15 days for 15 minutes and with only two people at a time. He is only permitted to receive books and newspapers approved by the prison administration and is banned from having photographs of his wife. Rida Benotmane’s lawyers asked for his provisional release, but the judges in the Rabat Court of Appeal rejected this request without providing any explanation. His verdict will next be reviewed by the Court of Cassation, Morocco’s highest court.
I urge you to release Rida Benotmane immediately and unconditionally and quash his conviction and sentence as they stem solely from the exercise of his right to freedom of expression. Pending his release, he should be held in conditions meeting international standards for the treatment of prisoners and removed from solitary confinement. I further urge you to end the prosecution of and criminal investigations against journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
[YOUR NAME]ADDITIONAL RESOURCES