RABAT, Jan 28 (Reuters) - A Moroccan court on Thursday sentenced dissident writer and rights activist Maati Mounjib and two others to one year in prison on charges of endangering internal state security and fraud, in a case dating back to 2015 and denounced by rights activists.
Human Rights Watch wrote in a recent report that Moroccan authorities have been cracking down on critical social media commentators and journalists using the penal code instead of the press code, which does not provide for prison sentences. Morocco rejected the report.
A university historian who writes frequent newspaper editorials, Mounjib has criticised Morocco’s record on freedom of expression and human rights.
Last month, a judge ordered Mounjib to be taken into custody pending an investigation in a separate case of laundering foreign funds relating to his management of a research centre in Rabat. That case is still being investigated.
Local and international NGOs demanded his release and described his arrest as a violation of his rights after similar arrests or jailings of several other dissidents over the last two years.
“We call on the Moroccan authorities to stop abusing criminal law or administrative regulations on the receipt of foreign funding as a means to target independent human rights associations or journalists,” Amnesty International said on the eve of Mounjib’s verdict for the 2015 case.
Amnesty described the charge of endangering internal state security as “vague and overly broad” and said the charge of fraud did not warrant a criminal prosecution.
Moroccan authorities have often denied waging a campaign against free speech, saying the police and courts are just implementing the law.
Earlier this month, a group of Moroccan rights NGOs described the increasing use of pre-trial detention as a human rights violation.
In recent months, several journalists have been detained on charges punishable under the penal code.
Two dissident journalists, Omar Radi and Soulimane Raissouni, have been in pre-trial detention for months over charges including sexual assault, which they deny.
Mounjib had denied the charges against him. Activists Hicham Kharbichi and Abdessamad Ait Aicha received the same sentence as him. (Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.