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Dissident Moroccan publisher jailed on sexual assault charges

AFP  |  Rabat 

A has handed a 12 year prison sentence to a newspaper publisher charged with sexual assault, in a trial his lawyers said was politically motivated.

The had found Taoufiq Bouachrine guilty of human trafficking, abuse of power for sexual purposes, and attempted

The publisher, sentenced late Friday, has maintained his innocence throughout.

He was arrested in February at the offices of his independent Akhbar Al-Yaum, known for editorials and cartoons critical of the authorities.

On Friday, told AFP Bouachrine had been the "victim of a political trial" because of his writings.

"In the Arab world, we still don't understand the meaning of press freedom," Ziane said.

Bouachrine has been critical of public figures including and the North African kingdom's ally, Saudi

Another member of his defence team, Abdelmoula El Marouri, cited government sources saying the had raised an official complaint over two of the publisher's editorials.

But called the trial "a criminal case, with facts and victims".

"There is no relationship between expressing political positions and committing sexual assault," he said.

trials are rare in Morocco, where victims fear social repercussions in a society that remains largely conservative.

The court ordered Bouachrine to pay the plaintiffs compensation ranging from 100,000 to 500,000 dirhams (USD 10,000 to USD 52,000).

Karout said his team would appeal for more due to the gravity of the offences.

The charges against Bouachrine were based on complaints, testimonies and about 50 videos seized from his office, purporting to show him in a variety of sexual acts.

Bouachrine's defence team said the videos were faked and in any case showed "consensual relations".

Experts consulted during the trial said they were genuine.

During the course of 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.

In the end, eight of the 15 plaintiffs originally named by the prosecution were recognised as victims and compensated, according to their lawyers.

Taoufik Bouachrine and his newspaper have a history of run-ins with the authorities.

In 2009 the paper was shut down over cartoons satirising the monarchy.

He and were each given a four-year suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay heavy fines and damages.

Bouachrine has also faced lawsuits from government ministers who have accused him of defamation.

And in June 2010, he was sentenced to six months for fraud relating to a property deal.

(RSF) ranked 133rd out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index last year.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, November 10 2018. 17:35 IST