On October 28, 2015, the State Prosecutor summons seven pro-democracy activists to appear before the Rabat Lower court to answer the following charges:
Mr. Maati Monjib, Mr. Hicham Khribchi (alias, Hisham Almiraat), Mr. Abdessamad Aït Aïcha, Mr. Mohamed Essaber are charged with “Undermining State security” (article 206 of the Penal Code) and “Violation of articles 5 and 6 of the Law on associations”. They risk up to five years in jail.
Mr. Hicham Mansouri, is charged with “Undermining State security” (article 206 of the Penal Code). He risks up to five years in jail.
Mr. Rachid Tarik and Ms. Maria Moukrim are charged with “Failing to report financing from abroad as prescribed by the Law on associations”. They risk a fine.
The smear campaign
Prior to the charges being made public, several media outlets known for their ties to Moroccan intelligence services, launched a campaign against Mr. Monjib and all six other activists attacking their reputations and depicting them as crooks.
Mr. Monjib, an academic and well-read columnist, has been a thorn in the side of the Moroccan regime for a long time. He has written extensively about the lack of democracy, the autocratic underpinnings of the regime and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few establishment figures.
In recent years, Mr. Monjib, a well-respected political actor, has played a role in establishing a needed dialogue between the left and a large, nonviolent faction of the Islamist movement in Morocco, undermining the state’s efforts to maintain a divide between the two parties.
Mr. Monjib has also been very much at the center of efforts to encourage the work of young journalists, setting up a national prize under the aegis of the Association marocaine pour le Journalisme d’Investigation (Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, AMJI). The prize honored the work of young reporters who investigated sensitive subjects such corruption and abuse of power.
Mr. Monjib has also close links to the pro-democracy movement “February 20th” and is the chair and co-founder of Freedom Now pour la Liberté d’expression, a media watchdog, which is denied recognition by the regime.
Centre Ibn Rochd d’Etudes et de Communication, a media research center founded and chaired by Mr. Monjib, partners in 2014 with the Dutch NGO Free Press Unlimited (FPU) to conduct a series of workshops targeted at human rights activists and journalists. The training program uses a smartphone app called StoryMaker. The app offers on-the-go journalism tips and video editing tools.
The threats and physical assaults
On July 14, 2014, Mr. Monjib is approached in the street by an identified man who threatens him: “You talk too much, learn to keep your mouth shut”. On another occasion, on September 22, 2014, another unidentified person, threatens him again in public by telling him: “You have heard of ISIS? They will take care of you”.
On September 24, 2014, Mr. Hicham Mansouri, a close associate of Mr. Monjib’s, is mugged in the street. Hicham had just left a meeting with Mr. Monjib at Hotel Ibis Agdal in the capital Rabat. Two unidentified individuals approach him near the hotel while a third waits for them inside a black Volkswagen Gulf car with tainted windows. The two men attack Mr. Mansouri and start beating him and abuse him verbally. Mansouri is left unconscious on the sidewalk, drenched in his own blood while the attackers quickly leave the scene in the car. Part of the attack is filmed by the hotel’s CCTV.
Hicham’s lawyer, Mr. Abdelaziz Nouaydi, complains two days later to the Prosecutor but the police refuse, without giving any explanation, to consider the hotel tapes as evidence even though Mansouri was made to view them in the company of two policemen in charge of the inquiry.
The fake charges
Six months after this attack, on March 17, about 10 policemen break into Mr. Mansouri’s appartment, brutally busting the front door. Mr. Mansouri was at home having breakfast in the company of his girlfriend. Policemen make Mr. Mansouri undress and photograph him naked. They later charge him with “encouraging prostitution and adultery.” To back up the charges, the police claim to have received complaints from Mr. Mansouri’s co-residents as well as from the concierge —something that the residents, and the concierge denied.
Mansouri’s lawyers produce legalized affidavits from the residents and the concierge testifying to the flawless conduct of Mansouri and denying they had complained to the police against him.
The judge presiding over his trial, the same who is today presiding over the trial of Mr. Monjib and his associates, refuse to consider the evidence vindicating Mr. Mansouri’s case and condemn him to an unusually harsh 10-month jail sentence. The trial is denounced as unfair by several human rights organisations including the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others.
Mr. Mansouri left jail on January 17, 2016 after having completed his sentence.
In the meantime the regime never stopped using its own media apparatus (the likes of al Nahar al Maghribiya ; kawalisse.ma ; barlamane.com ; agora-presse.com ; diaspora.ma ; le360.ma ; al ahdath al maghribiya ; ahdath.info ; lareleve.ma ; telexpresse.com, etc.) to smear Mr. Monjib and his associates accusing them of everything from treason to plotting against the State, to apostasy, adultery, homosexuality, collusion with Zionist organisations and blasphemy.
The case against Mr. Almiraat
Hisham Almiraat (real name, Hicham Khribchi), is a medical doctor by trade, a veteran political blogger, and the co-founder in 2011, of the opposition website Mamfakinch.com. Mamfakinch (which in Moroccan dialect means “We won’t give up”) is the winner in 2012 of Google’s international Breaking Borders Award. (The award has since been discontinued.)
Mamfakinch has reported extensively on the popular pro-democracy protests that spread across Morocco in the wake of the “Arab Spring”. The website gained substantial popularity during the protest movement and offered a rare platform to opposition voices, especially the February 20 Movement.
As a writer, Mr. Almiraat commented prolifically on Moroccan and regional politics contributing to many publications, including Foreign Policy, the BBC, Global Voices.
Mr. Almiraat served as the Advocacy Director for Global Voices, an international bloggers association and freedom of speech watchdog, from 2012 to 2014. He gained an international acclaim for his work in favor of freedom of expression online. During that time, Mr. Almiraat worked with free speech and privacy advocates all over the world and acquired training in data protection and digital security. He, in turn, helped train journalists and pro-democracy activists back home in Morocco on digital security and privacy issues.
To consolidate theses efforts, Mr. Almiraat founded the Association des droits numériques, or ADN, in May 2014. ADN is the first and only Moroccan NGO dedicated to raising awareness about, promoting and undertaking research on digital rights.
Despite ADN’s best efforts to comply with the Moroccan law, authorities would repeatedly refuse to grant it the permit to operate, in violation of the statutory law guarantying the right to free association — a classic tactic usually employed by the state to hamper the work of associations it does not control.
More recently, Mr. Almiraat worked as the Local Project Coordinator for the Dutch NGO, Free press unlimited and Centre Ibn Rochd, facilitating the implementation of the StoryMaker program and conducting digital security trainings.
In May 2015, ADN and Privacy International publishe a report entitled “Their Eyes On Me” (https://www.privacyinternational.org/?q=node/554), describing technologies involved in spying against activists and journalists in Morocco. The report featured Mr. Almiraat’s personal testimony as a victim of online spying, as well as that of half a dozen journalists and pro-democracy activists. The report called upon the Moroccan authorities to open a debate about privacy violations.
A few days after the publication of the report, the Ministry of Interior opens a criminal inquiry against Mr. Almiraat and ADN’s Vice-President, Ms. Karima Nadir.
On September 2, 2015, Hicham is summoned to appear at the Judicial Police headquarters in Casablanca where he is interrogated for 15 straight hours over ADN activities and his relationship with Mr. Monjib, Free Press Unlimited and Privacy International
During his interrogation, the police accuse Mr. Almiraat of “Denigrating the State’s efforts” and “Show of contempt for a State body” — charges that carry lengthy prison sentences.
The unlawful travel ban
As early as May 2015, the police wiretaps the phone calls of the codefendants. The police imposes travel bans on at least five of them. Contrary to what the law prescribes, none of the accused is informed of the travel ban, a grave violation of their right to a free movement.
On August 25, 2015, Mr. Aït Aïcha is prevented from boarding a plane at the Casablanca airport. And on August 31, 2015, Mr. Monjib, who was returning from an international conference abroad, is held by the Moroccan border police at the Casablanca International Airport. He learns that there is a “search warrant” against him. He also learns that he is accused of “undermining state security”. Mr. Monjib, who insists on his right to remain silent, is let free after 20 mins of detention.
In protest against these unlawful acts of intimidation, Mr. Monjib’s lawyers write to the State Prosecutor on the September 10, 2016, demanding that police actions be checked for their legality.
On September 14, Mr. Monjib is summoned by the Judicial Police for interrogation. He will be interrogated for three hours. The police would refuse to tell him the charges.
The hunger strike
On September 16, 2015, Mr. Monjib is prevented from boarding a plane bound for Barcelona where he is invited to speak before an academic event. Mr. Monjib decides to go on a three-day hunger strike as a warning to protest police harassment.
However, on October 7, Mr. Monjib is again prevented from boarding a plane at the Rabat International Airport.
At this point, Mr. Monjib takes the decision to start an open-ended hunger strike until the travel ban is lifted and the harassment he and his family are subjected to, ends.
The hunger strike lasts for 24 long days during which Mr. Monjib’s health declines worryingly. A committee made up of local and international supporters is set up to support the case of the seven co-denfendants. The committee receives the support of prominent individuals, including Mr. Noam Chomsky, Mr. Abdellah Hammoudi and Mr. Richard Falk, who write an open letter to King Mohammed VI asking him to intervene.
On the October 13, 2015, Mr. Monjib’s lawyers, Mr. Abderrahmane Benameur, Mr. Abderrahim Jamaï, Mr. Abdelaziz Nouaydi and Mr. Mohamed Messaoudi, petition the State Prosecutor requesting him to hand them a copy of the travel ban against their client in order to know what specific charges are raised against him. The request is dismissed out of hand.
On October 28, Mr. Almiraat is summoned again to Judicial Police HQs in Casablanca. Upon his arrival, his cell phone is confiscated and he is led into a police van. The police would refuse to show him a warrant or explain whether he was under arrest or not. Mr. Almiraat is driven to the Rabat Lower Court and is made to wait for hours at the tribunal’s basement. Finally, shortly before midnight, a deputy of the Prosecutor hands him a summons to appear before the same Court.
The same day, all remaining co-defendants receive official summons to appear before the Rabat Lower Court for their first hearing scheduled for November 19, 2015.