Wife of jailed journalist says her husband is the victim of a political manhunt spearheaded by Saudi Arabia.
Rabat – Asmae Moussaoui, the wife of jailed journalist Taoufik Bouachrine, has claimed that Morocco arrested and tried her husband at the behest Saudi Arabia.
In recent comments to the Guardian, the 43-year old woman, who is also a Moroccan civil servant, said the main reason for Bouachrine’s arrest was his critical articles on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, colloquially known as MBS.
The most revealing part of Bouachrine’s wife’s statement, however, was that Jamal Khashoggi, the slain Saudi dissident journalist whose murder has been increasingly—and in many regards convincingly—linked to MBS, had told Bouachrine that he was in danger for his criticism of both kingdoms’ political elites.
Khashoggi, Massaoui explained, warned his Moroccan friend that his “life was threatened and he had to be cautious.”
MBS ‘furious’ at Bouachrine’s Articles on him
Relations between Riyadh and Rabat have known a downward spiral in recent months. Before the ongoing saga of post-Khashoggi’s Saudi-damning reports that appeared to have tainted the Saudi prince’s reputation on the world stage, the two kingdoms were known for enjoying particularly strong relations.
(There were other reasons for the reported rift between the two allies, including lukewarm Saudi support on Western Sahara and disagreements on regional crisis zones like Libya, Yemen, and Palestine.)
Suggesting that the Bouachrine affair began at a time when the Rabat-Riyadh relationship was at its normal, Massaoui said that it was MBS who complained about her husband’s coverage of Saudi Arabian politics, especially the journalist’s trenchant criticism of the Crown Prince’s policies.
Bouachrine is the co-founder and editor of the liberal-leaning Moroccan paper Ahkbar Al Yaoum. He made himself a name with his incisive coverage of both Moroccan and regional affairs, mostly criticizing the countries’ political leadership.
He was arrested in February of last year after dozens of female employees—both former and current at the time of his arrest—accused him of sexual misconduct, including “multiple rapes, sexual assault,” and people trafficking.
Last November, after a months-long legal battle punctured by controversies—one of the journalist’s alleged victims complained about her testimony being altered and called the police “gangsters who want to kill the press”—a Casablanca court handed Bouachrine a 12-year prison sentence.
During uncharacteristically dramatic hearings, the authorities produced videos of what is thought to be Bouachrine engaging in forced intercourse with a number of his reported victims.
The journalist has energetically denied the accusations and discredited the videos, saying they had been fabricated to serve the interests of people who want to “silence” him.
Several international human rights advocacy groups have criticized the circumstances under which Bouachrine was tried.
Amnesty International, which has been singularly scathing of Morocco’s human rights record, decried what it saw as the political instrumentalization of the country’s justice department.
The Morocco section of the advocacy group’s latest report mentioned cases of “blatantly grossly unfair trials.”
Although less assuredly condemnatory in their subsequent statements on the evolution of the Bouachrine case, both Amnesty and the UN human rights council group have made almost the same case as Bouachrine’s wife who maintains that the journalist may have been framed by powerful circles that felt threatened by his biting criticism.
Massaoui told the Guardian that months before he was arrested, Bouachrine told her that Saudi Arabia had “complained” about him to the Moroccan authorities.
In his confidence to his wife, Bouachrine reportedly emphasized how his reports on Saudi Arabia had made MBS “furious and enraged.”
In response to MBS’ alleged complaint, the Moroccan government is believed to have said that it would deal with Bouachrine on its own terms. “We are going to handle this journalist’s case our way,” was Rabat’s alleged response.
In spite of the pockets of suspicion and controversies that have marked Bouachrine’s arrest and trial and are still hovering over the case, Morocco has strenuously defended the independence of its judiciary.
The Moroccan government has particularly denied allegations of a “political trial.” In addition, Rabat said it was surprised by advocacy groups’ resorting to a“neutrality façade” to “interfere” in the country’s internal affairs.
Meanwhile, both Mohammed Ziane, Bouachrine’s Moroccan lawyer, and wife Massaoui, have insisted that the arguments and evidence which the Casablanca court used to sentence the journalist were spurious and fabricated.
Ziane said there was “no conclusive evidence… from the legal point of view” to treat his client as he has been so far.
He added, “We contest the authenticity of the video. Taoufik Bouachrine denies categorically [being in them]. These videos do not show, by image or sound, any threat or coercion.”
Morocco and Saudi Arabia have not yet responded to these latest accusations of collusion to “handle” Bouachrine.
Whatever happens next, some Bouachrine supporters, presuming that the case is already sealed from the vantage point of Morocco’s judicial system, are already pinning their hopes on a royal pardon in Bouachrine’s favor.
In March of this year, three senior politicians from the left-leaning Istiqlal (Independence) Party pleaded with King Mohammed VI to accord his royal clemency to the jailed journalist.
In a letter that steered clear of fueling further controversy (The politicians refrained from taking sides in the contentious debate of whether Bouachrine has been framed), they invoked Bouachrine’s service to the nation with his “high-standard” journalism, pleading with the King to grant him a royal pardon.