A court in Morocco has increased the jail sentence of a dissident newspaper publisher on charges of rape and other offences that he denies and says are politically motivated.
Taoufik Bouachrine was handed a 12-year prison term in November 2018, but the sentence was lengthened to 15 years on Friday following an appeal by the public prosecutor.
The journalist had been found guilty of human trafficking, abuse of power for sexual purposes, rape and attempted rape.
Bouachrine, whose daily newspaper Akhbar al-Yaum has a history of run-ins with the authorities, has maintained his innocence throughout the trial.
The charges against him were based on complaints, testimonies and about 50 videos seized from his office, purporting to show him in a variety of sexual acts.
His defence team said the videos were faked and in any case showed “consensual relations”.
Earlier this year rights group Amnesty International called for the publisher’s release, saying his imprisonment was a “matter of freedom of expression”.
A United Nations Human Rights Council working group also reported this year that Bouachrine was the victim of “arbitrary detention” and “judicial harassment”.
The panel cited a lack of evidence and alleged witness intimidation – accusations denied by Moroccan authorities.
Rape trials are rare in Morocco, where victims fear social repercussions in a society that remains largely conservative.
During the trial, four women cited by the prosecution as victims denied involvement.
One was sentenced to six months in prison for accusing the police of falsifying her statement, while others refused to appear in court.
Bouachrine has been critical of public figures, including billionaire Agriculture Minister Aziz Akhannouch and the North African kingdom’s ally, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Asmae Moussaoui, Bouachrine’s wife, told the Guardian newspaper in June that slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi had warned her husband that his life was in danger in the months before his arrest. The UK-based paper also quoted her as saying that she believed Saudi Arabia told the Moroccan government to silence her husband.
There was no comment from Saudi Arabia on Moussaoui’s claims.
The Human Rights Watch, in a statement in April, said prison authorities in Morocco were holding Bouachrine “in a form of abusive solitary confinement for more than a year”.
While the journalist was allowed a weekly 45-minute family visit, visits by his lawyers and two five-minute phone calls weekly, he is not allowed to meet fellow inmates and guards are instructed not to speak with him, the rights group said.
Another journalist at Akhbar al-Yaum was sentenced to a year in jail in September on charges of abortion and extramarital sex. Hajar Raissouni was pardoned by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI earlier this month after the case drew widespread criticism from rights groups, who described it as an attack on media freedom.