Moroccan authorities must urgently end the solitary confinement of a detained journalist whose health is at risk after 51 days on hunger strike and ensure he is granted the specialized medical care he requires, said Amnesty International.
Sulieman Raissouni has been on hunger strike since 8 April in protest at his detention and prolonged solitary confinement. Since his arrest on sexual assault charges in May 2020 he has been held for a year in a single cell with no meaningful contact with anyone else for more than 22 hours a day. He suffers from chronic hypertension, a disease requiring regular treatment. Since he began his hunger strike, he has lost 31 kilograms and his health has sharply deteriorated.
“Without specialized medical care, Suleiman Raissouni’s health is at critical risk. Morocco’s authorities must urgently ensure he has access to independent medical care by a doctor of his choice and his family and legal team have access to his medical file,” said Amna Guellali, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.
“Regardless of what charges a prisoner faces, Moroccan authorities have an obligation to respect international standards on the treatment of prisoners. They must immediately end Suleiman Raissouni’s prolonged solitary confinement which violates the prohibition against torture.”
Despite receiving visits from a nurse to monitor his blood pressure, blood sugar and magnesium levels once or twice a day and from a doctor once or twice a week, Suleiman Raissouni’s lawyers and family believe that this care is not sufficient as he suffers from chronic hypertension and more recently has had difficulties walking due to pain in his right leg.
During his most recent court session on 18 May, he was too unwell to speak when presented before the judge. The hearing was postponed until 3 June.
On the day that he began his hunger strike prison guards searched his cell and seized his personal belongings as a retaliatory measure. He stopped drinking water until his belongings were returned to him six days later. He was also transferred to a different cell next to the prison kitchen.
Prison guards also stepped up monitoring of his communications with his family, standing close to him to listen to his phone conversations with them.
Suleiman Raissouni, a journalist for the independent Moroccan newspaper Akhbar al-Yaoum, is accused of sexually assaulting a gay man in 2018. The charges against him include “sequestration and violence” and “harming decency.”
It is vital for all sexual assault allegations to be properly investigated and for perpetrators of such assaults to be brought to justice. However, regardless of how serious the charges against Suleiman are, the authorities must ensure he is treated fairly and is granted a fair bail hearing.
Two days before his arrest on 20 May 2020, Suleiman Raissouni published a critical editorial, mentioning the names of Abdellatif Hammouchi, Head of the National Police Directorate and of secret services and Mohamed Abdenabaoui, the President of the Prosecutor’s Office and criticizing the authorities for prosecuting thousands of people for breaching “health emergency statutes” law amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
In March 2021, Akhbar al-Yaoum newspaper’s administration announced that it had been forced to shut down due to the harassment and imprisonment of its journalists as well as financial difficulties. In 2019, the newspaper’s publisher Taoufik Bouchrine was sentenced to 15 years in prison on several charges including sexual assault.