Top Moroccan Lawyer Charged in Absentia

A rebellious and outspoken politician, who regularly criticizes the practices and decisions made by state institutions in Rabat and who has defended journalists who have been the victim of false allegations has himself been targeted with the same skulduggery.

Moroccan authorities on 21st November arrested former human rights minister and lawyer Mohammed Ziane, the same day an appeals court upheld an initial judgment of three years’ imprisonment, the prosecutor’s office in Rabat said.

However, human rights advocates had contested the charges against Ziane, who is also the founder of the Moroccan Liberal Party and in the late 90s was human rights minister.

According to reports in the Moroccan press which largely favours the state in such cases in how it reports, he was found guilty of charges including insulting and attempting to influence the judiciary, instigating people to violate measures to contain COVID-19 using social media, contempt of institutions, adultery, sexual harassment and setting a bad example for children.

A national body of rights activists defending prisoners of conscience said in a statement on the same day that it was “extremely shocked at the arbitrary arrest” of Ziane, who is also a former head of the Bar Association.

Ziane was an outspoken critic of Moroccan public authorities and has defended many journalists taken to court in what human rights advocates claim are trumped-up charges, typically of a sexual nature. He is said to have a reputation for being outspoken against the Moroccan state, in particular the security services.

The arrest has sent shockwaves around the world, especially given that Morocco was once seen as the most advanced country in the MENA region in terms of liberties and freedom of expression. However, for the past ten years the country has become more totalitarian in its approach to handling journalists, activists and anyone who questions decision taken by Rabat, more in line with GCC countries with no such thing as a fair trial even for those caught by these trends of arresting outspoken figures.

“He was transferred to [near Rabat]. He was not even legally notified [of his conviction] and he never appeared,” Ali Reda Ziane, a lawyer for Mr. Ziane, told Agence-France-Presse which was reported in le Monde

“He was sentenced [by the Rabat Court of Appeal] for all possible and imaginable charges, it’s an aberration that I’ve never seen ,” protested the opponent’s son..

Earlier this month, a Moroccan court sentenced human rights activist Rida Benotmane to three years in jail on the charge of contempt for institutions after he used social media to urge protests against restrictive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19 last year.

In September, Fatima Karim was sentenced to two years in prison for “insulting Islam” after she published on her Facebook page satirical posts on the religion.  


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