Detained Moroccan journalist 'close to death': family

Detained Moroccan journalist 'close to death': family
3 min read
Soulaimane Raissouni is "close to death" 76 days into a hunger strike, his family said as his trial resumed in his absence.
Soulaimane Raissouni is 'close to death' [Getty]

A detained Moroccan journalist is "close to death" 76 days into a hunger strike, his family said as his trial resumed Tuesday in his absence.

Soulaimane Raissouni, editor-in-chief of now-defunct newspaper Akhbar Al Yaoum, is accused of indecent assault against another man, which he denies.

His supporters say the case is part of an official defamation campaign against critical journalists and activists. Morocco says its judiciary is independent.

His wife Kholoud Mokhtari told AFP Tuesday that his lawyers had seen him the previous day.

"He was very tired," she said. "He's close to death."

Live Story

Raissouni began a hunger strike in April demanding to be provisionally released, having been held in detention for more than a year.

All his requests for release had been rejected since his arrest last year.

On Tuesday, the journalist "did not attend his audience because the conditions linked to his health were not met", his lawyer Souad Brahma said after the brief hearing at the Casablanca appeals court.

His legal team said he had been prepared to attend "on condition he is transported by ambulance and has a wheelchair".

The court considered his absence a "refusal" and sent him a "warning".

Earlier this month he appeared in court, staggering and emaciated.

At one point in the hearing, which the judge refused to delay, the journalist said he wanted "to go back to die in prison."

Morocco's prison authority, which on Friday accused Raissouni of "trying to trick public opinion by staging a pseudo-hunger strike", told the court that the journalist had "refused" to attend the hearing.

Over the weekend, the 49-year-old was hospitalised twice after losing consciousness, the lawyers said.

Raissouni, who has a history of run-ins with the authorities, was arrested in May last year and says he has lost more than 35 kilogrammes (77 pounds), much of it since he began a hunger strike over the "great injustice" of his detention.

"I am ready, even eager, for this trial... whether in front of a court or the court of God," he wrote last week, in a letter dictated to his lawyers and shared by his wife on Facebook.

His trial began in February but has been delayed several times.

Moroccan courts have rejected all his requests to be released, despite a pressure campaign both in Morocco and overseas.

"We call on the King (Mohammed VI) to intervene in order to avoid a human catastrophe for freedom of the press," said Christophe Deloire, chief of campaign group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), during a visit Tuesday to attend the trials of Raissouni and another journalist, Omar Radi.

Radi, known for his human rights work, has been held in pre-trial detention for 10 months on charges of rape and receiving foreign funds for the purpose of harming "state security".

He also denies all the charges against him and says he is being targeted for political reasons.

Both men's trials were delayed Tuesday until later this month.

"Omar Radi is sick and Soulaimane Raissouni is in grave danger," Deloire said.

"Were the irreversible to happen, it would taint the image of Morocco.