Badil | Imprisoned in Morocco | July 20, 2017

Job:Editor, Internet Reporter
Beats Covered:Corruption, Human Rights, Politics
Local or Foreign:Local
Charge:Anti-state, Retaliatory
Length of Sentence:1 year to <5 years
Reported Health Problems:Yes

Moroccan police arrested Hamid al-Mahdaoui on July 20, 2017, as he traveled to the Rif area of northern Morocco to cover protests organized by the anti-corruption movement al-Hirak al-Shaaby, or the Popular Movement, according to Omar Benaddi, one of the journalist's colleagues, and news reports.

Police took al-Mahdaoui to their headquarters in al-Hoceima, a city in the Rif area, according to the reports.

Al-Hoceima has been at the center of protests since October 2016 when a garbage truck crushed a fishmonger to death while he was trying to recover fish that police had confiscated from him.

City prosecutors accused al-Mahdaoui of giving a speech that "incite[d] participation in a banned protest," and of "committing misdemeanors through speeches and shouting in public places," according to news reports that cite a statement from the prosecutors.

Witnesses said al-Mahdoui did not give any speeches, and that a police car appeared to be following the journalist's car before his arrest, according to Benaddi and news reports.

Prosecutors said in their statement that al-Mahdaoui's arrest is not connected to his work as a journalist.

The journalist, who is an editor and reporter for the online news outlet Badil, has previously faced legal action in relation to Badil's coverage, CPJ has documented.

On July 25, 2017, the Hoceima Criminal Court sentenced al-Mahdaoui to three months in prison and a fine of 20,000 Moroccan dirhams (US$2,000) for "committing misdemeanors through speeches, and shouting in public places," according to news reports. The court cleared him of the charge of "inciting participation in a banned protest," according to the same reports.

Al-Mahdaoui appealed, and on September 12, 2017, the Hoceima appeals court extended his three-month prison sentence to a year in prison, according to reports.

The journalist waged a hunger strike since his sentence was extended until September 26, 2017, according to news reports.

Authorities have been holding him in Casablanca's Oukacha Prison, according to the news reports.

Following a December 2016 court order, police began tapping the journalist's phone, along with the phones of 30 other individuals, as a part of a court investigation into individuals who were suspected to have links with the Rif protest movement, according to newsreports.

In a separate case, police used information obtained in one of al-Mahdoui's telephone interviews with an exiled Riffian activist to charge the journalist of "failure to denounce a crime threatening national security," according to news reports.

During al-Mahdoui's interview with the activist, which the police had recorded, the interviewee said he would send weapons to Morocco's al-Hirak al-Shaaby movement.

When asked to explain why he did not report this conversation to authorities, al-Mahdoui said that he "did not take the threats seriously," according to news reports, that cite al-Mahdaoui testimony during a court hearing on August 2, 2017.

On November 2, the al-Hoceima appeals court merged al-Mahdaoui's second case with two other cases in which tens of l-Hirak al-Shaaby activists, including the movement's leader Nasser al-Zefzafi are being tried on anti-state charges, local media reported. Rif 24 video journalist Mohamed al-Asrihi is being tried as a part of the same case on multiple charges, including "disseminating false news" and "practicing journalism without official accreditation," according to the reports.

The trial was ongoing in late 2017.

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