Casablanca (Morocco) (AFP)

A Casablanca court on Monday sentenced journalist and human rights defender Omar Radi to six years in prison in a double case of "espionage" and "rape", a verdict denounced by several NGOs.

The name of Mr. Radi, in pre-trial detention since July 2020, appears on a list of journalists and personalities potentially targeted by the Pegasus software of the Israeli firm NSO, according to an investigation published Sunday by a consortium of international media.

The government has categorically denied the use by its security services of Pegasus software to spy on journalists or national or foreign personalities.

In Morocco, the "espionage" investigation against Mr. Radi was opened at the end of June 2020 after the publication of an Amnesty International report claiming that the freelance journalist's phone had been hacked through the Pegasus software.

Mr. Radi, 35, claims to be prosecuted for his critical views on power.

He has always denied the charges against him - "undermining the internal security of the state", having received "foreign funding" in connection with "intelligence services" and "rape".

In front of a crowded room, the judge announced that Mr. Radi had been sentenced to six years in prison in a double case of "espionage" and "rape".

When the verdict was announced, protests erupted in the room and the journalist's supporters improvised a sit-in contesting the judgment in the heart of the court.

"The prosecution is motivated by revenge and not by the quest for the truth", proclaimed in a confident tone Mr. Radi, dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, at the public hearing of the trial, opened in April, before a criminal chamber at the Casablanca Court of Appeal.

- "Unfair" -

One of the defense lawyers, Me Miloud Kandil, said he was "disappointed" by the verdict without saying whether he was going to appeal.

"We cannot accept such a harsh and unfair verdict," he told AFP as he left the court.

During his trial, Mr. Radi was accused of "intelligence" in particular with two British economic consultancy firms, G3 and K2 Consulting.

The reporter claimed to have collaborated with these companies to carry out studies on a Moroccan society and palm cultivation.

In the same "rape" case, another journalist Imad Stitou, 32, was sentenced to one year in prison, including six months closed for "failure to assist a person in danger".

Mr. Radi was accused of "rape" by a colleague.

While the journalist spoke of "voluntary relations", the complainant claimed that she was not consenting and that the matter was "not political".

Mr. Stitou was first introduced as the sole defense witness in the rape case before being prosecuted in a state of liberty during the investigation.

Mr. Radi's version was corroborated by Mr. Stitou, present in the same room at the time of the events.

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"The court preferred to ignore the truths," Stitou, who remains free, told AFP.

By confirming the "consent", "I am defending the truth and not a friend," Imad Stitou told the court.

Their prison sentence is accompanied by compensation of 200,000 dirhams (approximately 19,000 euros) to the civil party.

The complainant's lawyer, Aïcha Guelaâ, said she was going to appeal.

The two men are also being prosecuted for "public intoxication with insults and insults".

- "Irregularities" -

The case of Mr. Radi mobilizes in Morocco and abroad.

Reporters Without Borders deplored on Twitter the verdict "at the end of a procedure marred by irregularities, therefore after having deprived him of his right to a fair trial".

Amnesty International called in a statement the Moroccan justice "to grant him a fair trial in accordance with international standards".

Moroccan authorities claimed that the judiciary was independent and that the trial had nothing to do with his work as a journalist.

Omar Radi has collaborated with Moroccan and international media and investigated corruption, the cash economy or collusion between power and economic circles.

At the end of 2019, he spent a few days in detention before being sentenced to four months in prison for "contempt of court" after a tweet criticizing a judge.

A week ago, journalist Soulaimane Raissouni, on hunger strike for 103 days, was sentenced to five years in prison for "sexual assault".

© 2021 AFP