‘Arrest over humiliation’: Moroccan editorials on Omar Radi’s imprisonment

Last night, outside the Morocco’s parliament building, ‘hundreds of people, including journalists, militants and political personalities … took part in a demonstration against the arrest of journalist and militant Omar Radi’ (Tel Quel, 29 December).

Radi is a leading investigative journalist in Morocco, whose arrest and detention on 26 December is a further escalation by the state against the country’s press (on the legal aspects of the charge, see HRW’s report).

Translated below are two editorial responses to Radi’s imprisonment, the first from the moderately critical Le Desk, the second from the sharper Yabiladi [‘Oh, My Country’].

Radi is a member of Attac Maroc, whose 28 December statement concludes with the following lines:

“Omar has chosen arrest over humiliation.

All our solidarity and support for Omar.

Down with the unjust sentences against the Movement of the Rif detainees.”

––

Le Desk

The regime is conducting a hunt against dissident voices on social media, who there have taken to the wild [prendre le macquis] to express their ideas, to shout their anger, when the press is more than ever muzzled, the agoras closed-off, politics flatlined, the street smothered, the culture killed.

In the stadiums, a creative, electrified youth is censured [1]. Citizens demand schools and hospitals; a YouTuber lets loose on the regime; a high-school student chants a subversive refrain on Facebook; a journalist says the awkward truth on Twitter — and the police summon them, the courts jail them. [2]

In following this logic, Morocco — which already lingers at the bottom of global indexes of freedom of expression and human development will not go far. We might belly-dance for foreign investors, build some bridges, lay some motorways, offer some fiscal carrots, ask that the country’s great and good think to our salvation – but nothing will work if every time one of us speaks with courage, we send them to solitary confinement, in the name of a sacrosanct stabilité, no longer to the benefit of anyone.

Omar Radi is the complete journalist, one who writes and speaks without concessions. Like him, there are hardly any left; he himself often says he’s disgusted by the trade, so much has it been trampled-over and devalued. His investigations have always struck a chord; those on the sand barons, or the lands conceded to the regime’s apparatchiks, will remain in everyone’s memory.

In all the newsrooms he has worked in — as with us, at the beginning of Le Desk — he has brought his intelligence, his energy and his commitment to the ‘right to know’.

These last years, he has dedicated himself to many public-interest stories, such as the expropriation of tribal lands: a subject at the confluence of various pouvoirs, of all their predations, and about which he spoke frankly on an Algerian web-radio program a few days before his arrest. Was it for this that the courts had unearthed one of his old tweets, to punish him? The question must be posed since, without any doubt, a spirit of vengeance lurks amongst his case.

Other journalists suffer bouts of repression; others risk as much as Radi for their work, that the Constitution says is protected and guaranteed. Enough! Let us all be in solidarity with Omar, so that he regains his freedom, and to break the cycle of suffering — for our common good.

Yabiladi

Fi bladi delmouni’ [‘In My Country They Oppress Me’]: a chant’s agonising lyrics, sung by thousands Raja Casablanca supporters at the top of their lungs, in an enclosure supposed to host a football match — even this ‘opium of the people’ no longer allows pain to be forgotten. In response, a trio of rappers have offered the lineʿash al-Shʿab [Long Live the People] as a slogan for the al-Zafzafi generation, itself heir to the Serfaty generation. [3]

Morocco has changed. Moroccans have changed. But an implacable security nucleus remains, composed of people nostalgic for the Years of Lead, who know only how to address the ills of our society through shock treatment. There is only one response for those who hold the gavel, when each head appears as a nail: to strike (Hajar Raissouni, l-Gnawi), to strike hard (Mahdaoui, Moul Kaskita), and sometimes to strike with all their might (Zafzafi, Ahamjik, Bouachrine). [4]

When the country needs appeasement to overcome the turmoil that the region is witnessing, our officials have accelerated the work of undermining mediating organisations (unions, political parties, associations, media), and vertiginously multiply the sentences for prisoners of conscience.

If the prison option had been used here and there, since November the judiciary has studiously avoided the peaceful route. It seems decided to make people pay a hundredfold for its forced retreat from the Hajar Raissouni affair, following the emotion it evoked, which in turn lead to a royal pardon. In this judicial monopoly, Taoufik Bouachrine has thus seen his twelve-year sentence increased to fifteen on appeal; the rapper Gnawi got one year; four years for [YouTuber] Moul Kaskita; and the same for many lesser-known people, all in less than two months.

Omar, a sentinel who must be silenced

The latest victim of the shock treatment is journalist Omar Radi. Prosecuted for “contempt of court” following a series of tweets on April 15, it seems more likely that it was his participation in a radio program in Algeria, uploaded on 23 December onto YouTube, which has put his file to the top.

Once again, the very swiftness of justice reveals the authorities’ determination to send a message to any journalists who would dare to exercise their freedom of expression: a summons by the BNPJ [Brigade nationale de la police judiciaire], an appearance before the King’s Prosecutor, and imprisonment in the Oukacha prison of Casablanca, all in the space of just one day.

At a time when the royal palace is attempting to restore some (slim) hope with the Special Commission on the Model of Development (CSMD) — and when the CSMD communication operation has barely launched — an element of the pouvoir is priming it to fail. Which Morocco are we heading towards? What choice are we leaving for this disoriented youth in a stagnating economy? Exile, or prison?

A word, a video, a tweet, and you are deprived of freedom for years. An irrational system capable of driving to madness even the most lucid — Maupassant’s Horla, inviting itself into the land of Mohamed Choukri. [5]

[1] Casablanca Raja fans were banned in early December from raising any unsanctioned banners, following their ‘Room 101’ tifo, with the Orwell reference taken aimed at the regime. Subsequently, on 22 December, numerous fans were arrested before the Casablanca ‘Classico’ derby.

[2] The ‘citizens’ referenced here are those Rifians who chanted for a ‘A Hospital, a University, and Work!’ during the 2016–2017 uprising in the region; ‘YouTuber’ refers to Mohamed Sekkaki, or ‘Moul Kaskita’ [‘Lord of the Caps’; ‘Cap Guy’], recently sentenced to four years prison for ‘insulting the King’; the ‘journalist’ is Radi himself.

[3] The ‘trio of rappers’ are Weld Griya 09, Lz3ar, and l-Gnawi. Their song ʿash al-Shʿab [Long Live the People] has been viewed twenty million times since it’s 29 October 2019 upload. The officially-preferred phrase is ‘Long Live the King’.

For a sense of how striking the comparison between the great Abraham Serfaty and Nasser al-Zafzafi is, see here.

[4] On the case of Hajar Raissouni, see al-M’s translation of a September 2019 article by Rosa Moussaoui, in which Taoufik Bouachrine is also referenced.

[5] ‘The Horla’, part inspiration for Lovecraft’s Cthulhu; Mohamed Choukri, one of Morocco’s outstanding novelists.

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