15 January 2016
Rabat/Brussels, 15 January 2016 – Hicham Mansouri, the Moroccan human rights activist, will be released on 17 January, having previously been sentenced to a 10-month prison term and a fine of 20,000 dirhams for the offence of complicity in adultery. Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) is concerned about the judicial harassment of those who support freedom of speech. With the release of its observation report on the trial, the NGO wishes to emphasise again the absolute importance of respecting the right to a defence and the requirements for a fair trial.
On 17 March 2015 around ten police officers in plain clothes broke into Mr. Mansouri’s home in Rabat. No arrest warrant had been served on him at the time of his arrest. Mr. Mansouri had been assaulted and forced to undress there and then, before being placed in preventive custody to await trial. Moreover, Mr. Mansouri had not been able to contact his family or his lawyer during the first twenty-four hours of his detention.
On 30 March 2015 the Rabat Court of First Instance sentenced Mr. Hicham Mansouri to ten months in prison and a fine of 20,000 dirhams (almost 2,000 euros) for complicity in adultery under Morocco’s Penal Code.
ASF had arranged for the judicial observation of this trial through a lawyer who was a member of ASF’s International Legal Network. This intervention took place in the context of ASF’s Kalima project, which aims to promote freedom of speech and the protection of journalists and bloggers in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt.
With Mr. Mansouri’s release from prison, ASF is publishing the observation report of his trial. This report raises some crucial questions about what was supposedly just a simple adultery affair: why was the defendant held in preventive detention? Why did the judicial authorities deal with this case so quickly? Why did the security services put in place such major security measures during the hearings?
“These various measures may be related to the political dimension of this case. Hicham Mansouri is a human rights activist who is known for his commitment to the promotion of civil liberties and in particular the freedom of the press. His trial can be seen as part of a practice that unfortunately is quite common, involving efforts to impede the work of people who stand up for freedom of speech, through judicial actions under ordinary law”, suggests Chantal van Cutsem, ASF Strategic Coordinator for the countries of North Africa and the Middle East.
Two weeks after his release Mr. Mansouri will have to appear again before the Rabat Court of First Instance alongside six other human rights activists and journalists. These defendants face accusations relating to endangering the security of the State because of their activities in the defence of human rights. On 19 November 2015 they had been summoned to appear before the Rabat Court of First Instance, which had then decided to postpone the trial until 27 January 2016. In this regard it is worth noting that the court did not consider it appropriate to order the police to present Mr. Hicham Mansouri for this hearing, while he was serving his prison sentence.
“At a time when the trial of these activists is about to begin, the judicial harassment of those who defend freedom of speech and human rights is worrying”, notes Chantal van Cutsem.
ASF reiterates the importance of the right to defence and of compliance with both the requirements for a fair trial and international standards.