The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today called for the release of Moroccan editor Taoufik Bouachrine in line with the findings of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

“The arrest and sentencing of Bouachrine, a well-known critic of both the Moroccan and Saudi Arabian governments, was determined to be politically motivated in response to his journalistic work”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “Morocco must address the concerns raised by leading human rights experts around the world and free Bouachrine.”

IPI’s call follows revelations by Bouachrine’s wife, Asmae Moussaoui, that late Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi had repeatedly warned him to be cautious.

Bouachrine, editor and co-founder of the Moroccan newspaper Akhbar al-Yaoum as well as its online version, Alyaaoum24, was arrested on charges of human trafficking, rape with violence, and sexual assault on February 23, 2018. His arrest came two days after having published an editorial criticizing the Moroccan prime minister and minister of agriculture.

On November 9, 2018, nearly ten months after his arrest, Bouachrine was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a court in Casablanca.

In the months before his arrest, Bouachrine had allegedly received warnings from Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was later murdered in October 2018. Moussaoui reportedly said that Khashoggi had repeatedly warned Bouachrine that it was not safe for him to be in Morocco, and that his “life was threatened and he had to be cautious”.

Moussaoui believes the Moroccan government was under pressure from Saudi Arabia to silence Bouachrine because of critical articles he had published about the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

During his trial, Bouachrine insisted on his innocence, denying all the accusations against him and stressing that the videos allegedly proving his guilt were fake. He added that he was a victim of an assault on freedom of expression.

In January 2019, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a report concluding that the charges against Bouachrine’s were politically motivated and calling for his immediate release and compensation for the imprisonment.

The Moroccan government dismissed the Working Group’s findings, stating they were not supported by concrete facts. They also pointed out that the report included no binding aspects, and that therefore they were free to disregard its demands.