Casablanca, Morocco: A Moroccan court on Monday sentenced journalist and human rights activist Omar Radi to six years in jail on charges of espionage and rape, stirring condemnation from rights groups.
Radi’s trial opened in June last year, just days after rights group Amnesty International charged that Moroccan authorities had planted Israel-made Pegasus spyware on his cellphone.
Rabat denied the report at the time, and on Monday the authorities “categorically rejected” using Israeli spyware to monitor critics at home and abroad.
Radi, 35, is a known vocal critic of the authorities and has been detained since July 2020.
His arrest and detention sparked protests by rights activists, intellectuals, and politicians at home and abroad.
He faced charges of rape and “undermining the internal security of the state” in two separate cases investigated separately but judged together.
Radi was also accused of having received “foreign funds” in exchange for providing “intelligence” information to a third party.
When Monday’s verdict was announced, protests erupted in court.
“This prosecution is motivated by revenge, not by a quest for the truth,” Radi himself said.
Amnesty in a statement labeled the proceedings “flawed” and “not justice”, calling for “a fair retrial in line with international standards”.
At a previous hearing in June, the judge questioned Radi about text messages he had exchanged with a Dutch diplomat in 2018.
Radi has protested his innocence throughout, and last month told the court the case against him was void and “did not justify my imprisonment for nearly a year”.
He said he was the victim of people “who consider themselves above the law”, and rejected both charges of rape and espionage.
“Where is the crime in a journalist meeting and exchanging (views) with an official from a foreign country?” he asked.
Morocco denies using Pegasus spyware against journalists and others
Morocco said Monday it “categorically rejects” claims its intelligence services had used Israeli spyware Pegasus to monitor critics at home and abroad, a government statement read.
Rabat said it had “never acquired computer software to infiltrate communication devices” and denied it had “infiltrated the phones of several national and international public figures and heads of international organizations through computer software”.
A joint investigation by several Western media outlets said Sunday that numerous activists, journalists, executives, and politicians around the world had been spied on using the software developed by Israeli firm NSO.
The media outlets, including The Washington Post, The Guardian, and Le Monde, drew links between NSO Group and a list of tens of thousands of smartphone numbers, including those of activists, journalists, business executives, and politicians around the world.
Many numbers on the list were clustered in 10 countries, including Morocco.
Rabat expressed its “great astonishment” at the reports.
These are “false allegations devoid of any foundation,” the statement read.
“Morocco… guarantees the secrecy of personal communications …to all citizens and foreign residents in Morocco”, it added.
Pegasus is a highly invasive tool that can switch on a target’s phone camera and microphone, as well as access data on the device, effectively turning a phone into a pocket spy.
In some cases, it can be installed without the need to trick a user into initiating a download.
NSO has denied any wrongdoings.