Moroccan journalist Omar Radi remains behind bars in Casablanca after being arrested and detained by Moroccan state authorities on July 29. Radi was charged with “undermining state security,” “receiving foreign funding,” and “collaborating with foreign intelligence.” He was later charged with rape. But rights groups and press-freedom advocates claim that the charges are politically motivated and designed to discourage others from engaging in serious investigative journalism.
Radi had reported on issues such as the protest movement in the Rif region in Northern Morocco and the role of the Moroccan state and big business in the dispossession of tribal lands. A month prior to his detention, Radi was the subject of an Amnesty International report, which alleged that Moroccan authorities hacked his phone using Pegasus spyware acquired from the Israeli company NSO Group. Radi has said that he suspects he is being surveilled at all times and has claimed that he has evidence showing that the police have been tracking his calls and SMS messages since at least 2011.
Radi was the subject of an Amnesty International report, which alleged that Moroccan authorities hacked his phone using Pegasus spyware.
The Pegasus virus works via network injection, meaning that a person wishing to steal another’s data must be physically near them. The perpetrator’s device can then function as a relay antenna, to which the victim’s phone connects. Once this happens, the perpetrator can access the victim’s phone more or less completely, including the touchscreen, microphone, and all information stored on the device. “I don’t know how much information they stole from my phone,” Radi told Democracy Now on July 16, “but I am sure that the pro-state media’s reports were based on private information that I have exchanged, even in Signal, which is known to be a very secure program.”
“Surprise, surprise, on June 22 Amnesty International released its report about me being spied on by Moroccan authorities, using the Pegasus virus,” Radi said. “On June 23, the next day, the general prosecutor of Casablanca ordered the National Brigade of Judicial Police to investigate me on the basis of the same information that had been ‘leaked’ on the pro-state media about me being a spy.”
“So, on June 24 I got my first summons and on the 25 I had my first hearing with the political police in Morocco,” he continued. “Now, every other day I am at their offices answering ridiculous surreal questions, such as: ‘Have you met with anyone from the Dutch Embassy and what did you tell them?’ There is no evidence – they are empty questions.”
Radi is currently being held in a prison in Casablanca – a Covid-19 hotspot – and has not been allowed any visitors. Even his lawyer and his parents have been unable to see him. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement, which read: “Moroccan authorities in the past have plainly tried to make any charge against him stick in retaliation for his work as a journalist.” The CPJ called on them to release Radi immediately and “investigate any sexual assault charges in a credible and transparent manner.” Radi’s lawyers deny all the charges against him. His next court hearing is scheduled for September 22.
Radi claims that the campaign against him was a close collaboration between the Moroccan state and pro-state media.
Radi claims that the campaign against him was a close collaboration between the Moroccan state and pro-state media. “They printed my bank information for example, that only state officials can access,” he told Democracy Now. “This harassment campaign accused me of having worked for intelligence agencies, especially US and British intelligence agencies.” Radi said that his friends and family have also been harassed and spied on – transcripts of his father’s phone conversations were obtained by the police as well.
The Moroccan government claims that Radi has been used as a pawn by Amnesty International to subvert the democratic government of Morocco. It accused him of having ties with foreign agents that mean the country harm. Radi maintains that the police do not talk to him about the Amnesty report during their interrogations, which would appear to confirm that it is being used as a pretense on which to prosecute him for his work as a journalist. He said that he has even asked the police for help, adding that he was even willing to give up his phone in order to aid any investigation into the hacking. “I am not in confrontation with the state,” he said. “I am an individual who needs to do his journalism in a safe way, to do it in peace, and to express myself as I want to.”
The charges brought against Radi (such as “jeopardizing national security”) mirror those brought against the Rif protestors he has supported. When several of the Rif protestors were given lengthy jail sentences, Radi tweeted directly about the judge in the case, describing the verdict as an abuse of human dignity that Morocco would never forget. As a result, Radi was given a four-month suspended sentence for “causing outrage to a judge.” He appealed the decision and is still waiting for the result.
“It has this function of making people afraid of having this kind of courage, of doing this kind of journalism – the kind that speaks out against injustice.”
Radi is doubtful about the response of Moroccan pro-state media, which he sees as fulfilling its institutional role of propping up power. “They have already sentenced me,” he said. “They have already called me ‘the spy,’ ‘the traitor,’ etc. Those media are fulfilling their role, I think. They are just functioning as state thugs.” In Radi’s view, the system is making an example of him in order to discourage others who wish to look upon Moroccan politics with a critical eye. “It has this function of making people afraid of having this kind of courage, of doing this kind of journalism – the kind that speaks out against injustice,” he said.
Despite Radi’s distinct lack of illusions, his own detention may have come as some surprise to him. Speaking two weeks before his arrest, he said it was unlikely he would not be released from one of his upcoming interrogations. “Everything is possible but, if they arrest me, they have to provide material evidence, which they don’t have,” he said. “It would be an abusive arrest and my lawyers are aware of all that. . . . So, I’m not afraid.”
Radi went on to say that he intended to stop cooperating with the authorities’ interrogations, due to the “empty” nature of their questions, stating that he plans to keep silent throughout the rest of the examinations. “The questions do not respect the presumption of innocence, so I am not playing this game,” he explained. “If they have something, they should arrest me and send me to the prosecutor and then to trial. But I am not playing this Q&A game with the police, as they just want me to confess that I am something that I never was.”
Omar Radi draws hope from his supporters and the sheer amount of attention his case is getting. “Civil society is rallying around me and I think public opinion has showed a lot of solidarity, as have Moroccans living abroad and many NGOs at the international level,” he said in his last interview before his arrest. “Some Moroccan media are precariously covering the facts about what is happening.”
Each evening, Radi’s father posts moving “good night” letters to his son on Facebook, one part of a desperate “Free Omar Radi” campaign that is receiving widespread attention on Moroccan social media.
Meanwhile, 400 significant Moroccan cultural figures, many of them living in France, united to denounce “police repression and defamation media,” citing Radi’s case as one of the key examples.
The international response to Omar Radi’s arrest has also been promising for the young journalist and those close to him. Le Desk, a publication for which Radi works, reported last week that artists in Brussels have painted a mural of the journalist’s face, above the caption “#Free All Journalists.” Radi’s story has been covered across several international, mostly francophone, media.
Omar Radi and his supporters are hoping that shining a light on this case will help bring justice for him and others.