EU parliament slams declining press freedom in Morocco

The European Parliament on Thursday condemned what it described as a decline in press freedom in Morocco, saying it was "concerned" by corruption allegations against Rabat.

A corruption scandal involving European Parliament members that erupted last month sent shockwaves through EU circles in Brussels, with MEPs accused of taking bribes from Morocco and Qatar.

Both countries vehemently deny the accusations.

In a non-binding text adopted on Thursday, MEPs urged Morocco to "respect freedom of expression and media freedom" and to "guarantee imprisoned journalists... a fair trial".

Two of the most prominent cases in Morocco are those of Omar Radi and Soulaimane Raissouni, both sentenced on appeal last year on sexual abuse charges.

Radi's father told AFP on Thursday that the vote "confirms that these are attacks against journalists aimed at silencing them".

Driss Radi, who is also a member of a committee to support the detainees, reiterated "our call to release journalists and social activists and guarantee them the right to fair trials, of which they have been deprived".

MEPs said Radi's right to a proper defence had not been respected, saying the trial had been "unfair and biased".

They called for an "end to harassment of journalists in the country".

- 'Years of passivity' -

An "authorised source" at the foreign ministry in Rabat, quoted by a media outlet close to the government, said the EU parliament resolution would have "no impact on Morocco... which will not be frightened or intimidated.

"This resolution fits with the aggressions and harassments sustained by the kingdom from those disturbed by Morocco's development, prosperity and strong role in the region," the source added.

The European Union's top diplomat Josep Borrell earlier this month visited Morocco, where Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said the country was facing "repeated media attacks" and vowed to "defend the partnership" with the EU.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) welcomed the EU Parliament vote as a break with "25 years of passivity".

"The European Parliament has put an end to an annoying tendency to exempt Morocco from any comment on its attacks on freedom of the press and human rights," it said in a statement.

Morocco ranks 135th out of 180 countries on the group's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.

Human Rights Watch last year also denounced Rabat's "techniques of repression".

Moroccan authorities insist the judiciary is independent and that the cases against journalists have nothing to do with journalism.

The Parliament also said it was "deeply concerned" by allegations that Moroccan authorities had bribed its members and reaffirmed its commitment to "fully investigating" corruption.

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