RABAT (Reuters) - A Moroccan court sentenced on Thursday local journalist Hamid El Mahdaoui, who covered protests over economic and social problems in the northern Rif region, to three years in prison, his sister and lawyer said.
El Mahdaoui, who was arrested in July 2017 in the northern Rif city of Al Hoceima, was tried on the charge of not reporting a crime against state security after receiving a phone call from a Moroccan national living abroad saying he would introduce arms to Morocco.
“This is a cruel sentence against a citizen and a journalist who did not commit any criminal activity,” Nadia El Mahdaoui, his sister, told Reuters by phone. “We hope the appeals court will acquit my brother.”
The verdict comes after the same court in Casablanca sentenced on Tuesday the leader of the Rif protests, Nasser Zefzafi, to 20 years in jail on charges of undermining public order and threatening national unity.
Mahdaoui’s sentence, along with verdicts against Rif protest activists, who received sentences ranging from a one year suspended term to 20 years in jail show that “the state wants to intimidate people and deter street protests,” said Ahmed Asside, a human rights activist.
“The sentence runs against the rule of law and taints Morocco’s justice system as Mahdaoui did not commit a crime,” his lawyer, Mohamed El Hini, said. “If Mahdaoui reported such a crime he will be ridiculed or even accused of reporting an imaginary crime.”.
The Al Hoceima demonstrations, along with those in the mining town of Jerada in early 2018, have been the most intense since unrest in 2011 that prompted King Mohammed VI to devolve some of his powers to an elected parliament.
The protests in the predominantly Berber Rif erupted after the death of fishmonger Mouhcine Fikri in October 2016, who was crushed inside a rubbish truck trying to recover fish confiscated by police.
Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by Ulf Laessing and Diane Craft