Geneva - The five-year imprisonment sentence of Moroccan activist Said Boukyoud on charges of free expression is unfair and cannot be justified under any circumstances, said Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor in a statement.
The First Instance Criminal Court of Casablanca sentenced Boukyoud, 48, to five years in prison on Monday 31 July for social media posts he made in 2020 that included criticism of Morocco’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with Israel. The arbitrary ruling is part of the Moroccan authorities’ campaign against freedom of expression, which includes practices aimed at criminalising critics and opinion-holders and silencing dissidents.
Moroccan authorities had arrested Boukyoud at Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport on the morning of Monday 24 July, upon the activist’s return from Qatar with his family. His request for parole was denied, and he was kept detained following the arrest. Euro-Med Monitor noted a violation of his right to a fair trial, citing the court’s decision to issue a verdict only seven days after his arrest, meaning the relevant authorities, the prosecution, and the defence may not have exhausted all legal procedures; this indicates a clear intent to punish Boukyoud for his dissenting views.
Boukyoud’s case exemplifies the country’s policy of using its judiciary to punish and retaliate against certain journalists and opponents. Several journalists and dissidents have been detained in recent years, with some receiving harsh sentences on charges that appear to be fabricated and biased. “The decision to imprison Boukyoud for five years for merely expressing his opinion reflects a shameful disregard for the right to freedom and human dignity, and demonstrates the risks and challenges that dissidents and opinion-holders face in Morocco,” said Euro-Med Monitor’s Chief Operating Officer Anas Jerjawi.
“Moroccan authorities are obligated to respect citizens’ freedom of publication and expression, as all individuals have the right to express their views on the country’s policies and relations with other countries, within the limits set by the Moroccan constitution and relevant international covenants,” Jerjawi added.
The detention of individuals for expressing their opinions clearly violates Morocco’s relevant international obligations as well as Article 25 of the Moroccan constitution, which guarantees the “freedoms of thought, of opinion and of expression under all their forms”. Furthermore, it violates Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Morocco, which states that “[E]veryone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” as well as “the right to freedom of expression”.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor emphasised the importance of establishing a truly independent judiciary in Morocco—one that is not used to punish opponents or undermine freedoms, and is free of all forms of government influence—and urged authorities to rescind the arbitrary sentence imposed on activist Said Boukyoud, release him unconditionally, stop prosecuting and criminalising peaceful activity, and cease all practices that undermine individuals’ rights.
The organisation also called on Moroccan authorities to release all prisoners of conscience, including all journalists and dissidents convicted on charges that may be fabricated and unfair, stop viewing dissidents and critics as threats that must be neutralised and silenced, and respect individuals’ opinions and peaceful activism.