Rabat – Moroccan newspaper boss Taoufik Bouachrine has been sentenced to 12 years in prison on Friday night for sexual violence he has always denied after a heated trial that divided opinion.
"Political process" for some people, "business of morals"for others: the case held in camera since 8 March in Casablanca has fascinated the local press because of the personality of the accused and the gravity of the charges,"trafficking in human beings","abuse of power for sexual purposes","rape and attempted rape".
Arrested in February in the offices of his newspaper during a spectacular police operation and imprisoned since then, the director of the independent daily newspaper Akhbar al-Yaoum was tried by the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal of Casablanca who recognized him guilty of all counts.
The influential journalist was risking 20 years in prison. His lawyers had pleaded for his acquittal.
– "Political process"-
When asked to speak for the last time on Friday, the defendant said he was "victim of a political trial because of his pen", told AFP one of his lawyers Mohamed Ziane.
"Quiet and sure of him"he lamented that"in the Arab world we still do not understand what is freedom of the press", according to his lawyer.
He claimed that he was paying for his writings against Moroccan politicians, such as billionaire Aziz Akhannouch, Minister of Agriculture, and against Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
He assured to have "learned from government sources that the Saudi embassy in Rabat complained to the head of government of two of its critical editorials", according to his lawyer Abdelmoula El Marouri.
"It's a criminal case, with facts and victims. There is no relationship between expressing political positions and committing sexual assault", challenged one of the lawyers of the civil party, Me Mohammed Karout.
The court awarded the victims compensation ranging from 100,000 to 500,000 dirhams (about 9,000 to 46,000 euros).
The civil party considers that "compensations are not up to the damages"and intends to appeal, said Mr. Karout.
The charge is based on complaints, testimonies and about fifty videos of sexual frolics seized in his office during his arrest.
These very explicit images, some of which leaked in the press, demonstrate "abject practices", according to the plaintiffs' lawyers, while the defense asserts that it is"fixtures".
Technical expertise conducted during the trial confirmed the authenticity of the videos. But according to the defense, there is nothing to formally identify Taoufik Bouachrine.
In his latest statements, the press boss has once again denied being the man filmed in the videos which, moreover, show "scenes of consensual relationships", according to one of his lawyers.
The case has seen several twists since the opening of the trial: four women cited as "victimsThe prosecution denied that she was concerned, and one of them was sentenced to six months in prison for accusing the police of falsifying her statement, a sentence confirmed on appeal this week. to appear in court.
In the end, 8 of the 15 civil parties originally named by the prosecution were recognized as victims and compensated, according to civil party lawyers.
Due to the closed session, the local press distributed conflicting reports during the trial, with detailed testimonies on the "perversions"the accused, the other protests denouncing a"case mounted from scratch".
Taoufik Bouachrine had already been prosecuted: in 2009 for a caricature deemed disrespectful of the royal family and the national flag, in 2015 for a detrimental article "to Morocco's reputation"early 2018 for"defamation"against two ministers.