Day of the Imprisoned Writer: Soulaiman Raissouni
Situation: imprisoned in Morocco
Soulaiman Raissouni is a prominent Moroccan journalist and the former editor-in-chief of the now-defunct opposition newspaper Akhbar al-Youm. He gained recognition for his editorials critical of the Moroccan authorities.
On May 22, 2020, Moroccan police arrested Raissouni on charges of ‘sexual assault’ and ‘enforced confinement.’ He vehemently denied these allegations, asserting they were retaliatory and politically motivated.
Raissouni endured nearly a year of arbitrary pre-trial detention before the Casablanca Court of Appeal sentenced him on July 9, 2021 to five years in prison, and imposed a fine of 100,000 Moroccan Dirhams (equivalent to approximately $10,000). His trial was marred by irregularities, and the sentence was delivered in his absence and that of his defence team. Raissouni’s family reported that the Moroccan authorities prevented him from attending several trial hearings, and rejected all his requests for release pending trial. Additionally, they confirmed that during his detention, Raissouni was denied visitation rights and, on few occasions, access to legal counsel.
According to the case file examined by PEN International, Raissouni’s arrest was prompted by online accusations of sexual assault. The case file disclosed that the accuser made these allegations using a different name and never specifically identified Raissouni as the perpetrator. Nevertheless, local media outlets with close government affiliations, initiated a smear campaign against Raissouni amplifying these accusations, prior to his arrest and subsequent detention.
An investigation by the non-profit project Forbidden Stories published in 2021, revealed that Raissouni had been targeted for surveillance using the notorious Pegasus spyware for a two-year period, starting in 2017, alongside other prominent Moroccan journalists, including Omar Radi and Taoufik Bouachrine.
In August the same year, Raissouni ended his 122-day hunger strike, which he had initiated to protest his prolonged pre-trial detention and unfair trial. His family informed PEN International that the hunger strike had caused him significant weight loss and adversely affected his overall health, particularly his ability to walk.
In July, prison authorities published a CCTV video of Raissouni in prison, without his knowledge while he was wearing little clothing. In the video, he appeared using crouches and to have lost significant weight. His family considered the release of video to be another attempt by the authorities to defame and intimidate him. While in prison, authorities also denied Raissouni access to reading and writing materials for prolonged period, and he remains unable to receive and send letters freely. In May 2022, prison authorities confiscated his diaries and a draft novel.
In February 2022, the Casablanca Court of Appeal upheld the five years sentence.
In July 2023, despite international pressure and criticism over his arbitrary detention and unfair trial, the Rabat Court of Cassation rejected Rassouni’s final appeal, upholding his unjust prison sentence.
In July 2022, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that the arrest and detention of Raissouni were arbitrary, raising grave concerns over his physical and psychological well-being. Furthermore, in January 2023, the European Parliament adopted resolution 2023/2506(RSP), urging the Moroccan authorities to uphold freedom of expression and press freedom, ensure fair trials and due process for all imprisoned journalists, including Raissouni, secure their release, and cease their harassment and that of their lawyers and families.
Since May 2020, Rassouni’s wife, screenwriter and journalist Kholoud Moktari has faced a systematic smear campaign by pro-government media due to her activism on behalf of her husband. The campaign, which PEN International is closely monitoring, intensified following the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s opinion (31/2022), recognising the arbitrary nature of Raissouni’s detention, aligning with Moktari’s claims of his rights violations.
PEN International believes that Raissouni’s conviction resulted from an unfair trial, and that he is being targeted because of the content of his writings. The organization is also deeply concerned about Raissouni’s physical and psychological well-being.
For more information on Morocco other imprisoned Moroccan journalists, please click here.
PEN International considers Soulaiman Raissouni’s imprisonment to be a clear breach of his right to freedom of expression and calls for his immediate and unconditional release. This is what you can do:
Write to the Moroccan authorities, calling on them to:
- Release Raissouni immediately and unconditionally and drop all charges against him.
- Ensure Raissouni is allowed to receive and send letters, has his confiscated writings returned, and receives adequate medical care, pending his release.
Further calling on the Moroccan authorities to end the persecution and detention of journalists and writers simply on the basis of the content of their writing or alleged affiliations, and to immediately release all those imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Please send appeals immediately to:
Palais Royal Touarga, Rabat
Send copies to the Embassy of Morocco in your own country. Embassy addresses may be found here.
Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Morocco, calling on them to raise Soulaiman Raissouni’s case in bilateral fora.
📢 Day of the #ImprisonedWriter’s Call for Action: Moroccan journalist #SoulaimanRaissouni is languishing in prison following an unfair trial, targeted because of his writings. We must unite to demand his immediate and unconditional release.
Messages of solidarity to Soulaiman Raissouni can be sent using the form here.
We also encourage you to highlight Soulaiman Raissouni’s case, and the state of freedom of expression in Morocco, by:
- Publishing articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press
- Organising public events, press conferences and demonstrations
- Visiting PEN International’s handles on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and PEN MENA’s handles on Twitter and Facebook for retweets, likes, comments and sharing our posts for wider outreach
Please keep us informed of your activities. Messages can be sent to Sabrina Tucci, PEN International’s Communications and Campaigns Manager, Sabrina.Tucci@pen-international.org and Mina Thabet, Head of PEN International’s Mina Region, Mina.Thabet@pen-international.org