A Moroccan court has handed prominent journalist Taoufiq Bouachrine a 12-year prison sentence on sexual assault and human trafficking charges in a trial that activists say is politically motivated.
Bouachrine, a director of the Akhvar al-Yaoum newspaper, was additionally slammed with a 200,000 dirhams ($20,000) fine by the Casablanca Court of Appeals on Friday, his lawyers said.
The 49-year-old was detained in February after a police raid on the Casablanca-based daily.
Prosecutors said the arrest was in relation to a number of complaints made by female employees who have accused the outspoken critic of sexual assault and rape.
Authorities said police seized 50 sex videos involving Bouachrine in his office, charges that the journalist has consistently denied.
Bouachrine said the man seen in the video is not him and that those filmed seemed to engage in the sexual acts consensually.
While the verdict can be appealed, the case has seen several twists since the trial’s opening. Four of the woman cited as “victims” by the prosecution have denied expressing concern.
One of them was sentenced to six months in prison for accusing the police of falsifying her statement, a sentence confirmed after her appeal this week.
Eight of the 15 parties initially cited, however, were recognised as victims by the prosecution and compensated, according to their lawyers.
On Friday, a number of journalists and rights activists held a protest outside parliament in Casablanca where they called for Bouachrine’s release and accused the government of violating his right to free speech.
Some protesters raised placards, reading: “Detentions for the eyes of Bin Salman” referring to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The protesters claimed that Bouachrine was jailed due articles he had written that were critical Saudi Arabia.
Mohamed Ziane, one of Bouachrine’s lawyers, said official sources told him that “the Saudi Arabian embassy in Rabat had complained to the head of government about two of his editorials”.
Al Jazeera and news agencies