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Moroccans rally in support of journalist detained over tweet

Rabat, Morocco | AFP |  Hundreds of people demonstrated Saturday outside Morocco’s parliament demanding the release of a journalist detained for criticising a judge in a tweet.

Omar Radi, 33, was detained Thursday in Casablanca and immediately put on trial for the tweet about a judge prosecuting protest leaders, his lawyer said.

If found guilty of insulting a magistrate the journalist could be sentenced to up to one year in jail. The next hearing is set for January 2, according to Radi’s lawyer Said Benhammani.

Outside parliament crowds of supporters chanted “Free Omar”, accused the government of “corruption” and said judges were “at the order” of authorities.

Radi’s case has sparked an uproar as well among local and international human rights group who have denounced increased attacks on human rights and individual freedoms in Morocco.

“Radi’s unjustified detention and trial comes amidst an increasingly suffocating atmosphere for Moroccan journalists, dissidents, and artists who speak out on social media,” Human Rights Watch’s Sarah Leah Whitson said.

“If you express your dissatisfaction of the government on YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, you risk jail in Morocco. Not great for a country that still postures as a ‘liberal exception’ in the Arab world.”

Whitson said Radi, an award-winning journalist and human rights activist, should be released, adding that the case against him “reeks of political vengeance” against his work.

In April Radi criticised judge Lahcen Tolfi after he upheld sentences of up to 20 years in jail against leaders of the movement protest movement that rocked the country in 2016 and 2017.

He called him a “henchman” who “carried out orders” from higher up.

On Thursday YouTuber Mohamed Sekkaki, known as “Moul Kaskita”, was sentenced by a court in the western city of Settat to four years in prison for “insulting the king” in an online video.

Earlier this month a high school student was given a three-year jail sentence for sharing on Facebook a contentious song denouncing injustice and money-grabbing in Morocco.

The song “Aach al Chaab” (long live the people) was co-written by popular Moroccan rapper Mohamed Mounir, known as Gnawi, who himself was sentenced to one year in jail in November for insulting police.

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