OPINIONPOLITICS

Amnesty International should be protecting society from Omar Radi, not defending him

The arrest of Omar Radi, a controversial Moroccan journalist, subject of a recent Amnesty International campaign against Rabat, on rape and spy charges, sparked another wave of outrage in the internationalmedia. Conveniently left out of the emerging narrative of another “dissident journalist hero” being martyred for speaking truth to power is the fact that only a few weeks prior Radi was arrested for taking part in a banal fightwith a cameraman from Chouf TV outside a bar. One would think experienced major outlets would stop elevating attention seeking individuals with a penchat for scuffles and showdowns from past experience. In December 2019, Radi was facing a trial for breaking other laws, which major networks reported as freedom of speech violations after tweeting insults against a judge, who had upheld a verdict against protesters of a political movement in the Rif region, which is thought to be funded by foreign parties.

Media’s Failure at Objective Coverage of the Radi-related stories

Human rights organizations denounced his questioned and spread a media campaign about how Radi could be facing up to a year in jail for a tweet. Needless to say, nothing of that sort happened. Radi was forgotten soon enough and the media moved on to the next scandal. Interestingly enough, Radi was described as “journalist and activist”. But these two terms are polar opposite in meaning. A journalist is bound by professonal ethics to some level of objectivity and accuracy in coverage. An activist is there to push an agenda.

Radi was further described as an investigative reporter, rather than a columnist, which would give him some leeway in injecting personal opinions into his commentary. But someone allegedly dedicated to investigating corruption and issues related to political movements, one would think, would abstain from getting involved in the very events he is investigating for the sake of dedication to objectivity and verity, if not for the sake of his own reputation.

However, given that the media reporting on these events is merging the reporting of events with the subjective opining and pursuit of a seemingly noble agenda in liberating truth seekers from the paws of their own governments, they themselves have become a curious combination of political operatives and agents of the human rights organizations, generally the sole or main sources for these reports, and reporters of the events colored by these limited perspectives.

Part of it is due to a sense of ideological duty which overrides professional ethical considerations, and mart maybe a result of being on a payroll for private parties using corruptible Western media as tools of foreign policy. As such, they would hardly be in a position to criticize Radi’s lack of professionalism or questable role that has appeared to have landed him time and again in hot waters.

Is Radi a journalist or a political operative?

While Radi, as any other citizen of Morocco or any other country, deserves protection against abuses and overreach by the government, whether any rights of his as a member of the press are violated when his agenda is questioned (as an activist, he may be, for instance, driven by personal grievances or by foreign funding, rather than by an objective dedication to battling an identifiable social issue) is another matter.

For instance, there is the question of whether someone like Radi is even a journalist at all. If he is, in fact, a political operative on behalf of another country, then his activity is not and should not be protected. Increasing evidence suggests that it’s not only the case – but that Amnesty International, its media partners, and other organizations which have taken up Radi’s cause may very well have been deliberately or incidentaly carrying water for governments or other parties pursuing an anti-Moroccan agenda.

Objectivity would require looking at the totality of circumstances surrounding claims against Radi and Radi’s claims against the MOroccan government, evaluating all relevant factors, and at the very least including the unresolved controversies as part of the report. The most recent batch of articles overing the current chain of events lacked any sort of nuance, and thus appear to be more in line with propaganda whitewashing Radi than an investigation into allegations involving multiple actors with competing claims.

What would objectivity look like in this case?

It would a lot like being a responsible reporter and requiring a non-sensationalist approach to the recent scandalous chain of events which started with Omar Radi’s claims that the Moroccan government had used an Israeli software to hack his phone and brought about an Amnesty International report accusing Rabat of malicious hacking, starting an online campaign supposedly to teach activists in Morocco how to protect themselves from government surveillance, and then filing a complaint with the Israeli government seeking to withdraw the Israeli software producer NSO’s export license on flimsy evidence. Media dedicated to professional ethics would demand the release of full technical data Amnesty had used to comprise this report, and other human rights NGOs would have done the same.

They would also examine Radi’s selective leaks of the investigations to the press, and his strange claims that he must be innocent of any accusations because he has not been arrested yet. Responsible media would take twice before taking Radi’s self-serving claims at face value after NY Times retraction of a Reuters article detailing Amnesty investigation. I

t would certain ask some hard questions about Amnesty’s failure to engage with Morocco and to provide additional evidence. Finally, it would examine the record of Amnesty and other media claims linked to the Pegasus software and at the very least establish whether there is or isn’t a pattern of suspicious behavior, lack of technical data, and other relevant allegations and context in the cases chosen by human rights groups.

Did Amnesty help Radi frame a winning sensationalist narrative?

That would be the media doing its job. Instead, the press opted for the path of least resistance, shaping the narrative of the events and making the news, instead of breaking it. The familiar narrative of the underdog facing off a tyrannical pro-Western monarcy, however, falls apart upon closer examination, because Radi is in fact, facing allegations that have nothing to do with his criticism of the government or legitimate media activity.

Subjected to the expected scrutiny of a skeptical investigative reporter, Omar Radi’s story might look a little different. It might turn out, for instance, that Radi freely exercises as a journalist. As such, he has never been worried or questioned in any way in the course of his work or activities, or even in his public positions. He has never complained of any infringement or restriction in this regard, either to the competent judicial authorities or to the competent national institutions.

Last year’s story of his arrest with respect to a critical tweet against a judge might turn out to be fake news served up by Radi himself and unverifiable based on his legal history. In other words, he was indeed detained for questioning, but not for the sympathetic reasons cited. His claims of government persecution could well be unfounded, delusional, or even fabricated and fraudulent, propagated to advance an agenda of making him into a hero and his government into a villain. We’ve all been there before.

Instead we see Radi acting in concert with major NGOs and media to establish a pattern that would create the impression of persistent persecution, empowering him and undermining Morocco. If Amnesty had in fact advised him on how to evade laws, avoid legal problems, knowing that his violations had nothing to do with infringement on press freedom, they may been acting as co-conspirators in facilitating espionage and covereing for serious crimes. At the very least, the NGO increasingly appears to have failed to do due diligence, instead opting to buy into Radi’s claims without questions, because it helped Amnesty advance the agenda of appearing to be a savior fighting the good fight, and garnering attention. And if Amnesty had in fact been acting in the interests of and directed by some foreign agency, the public trust into its commitment to human rights shoud be irreparably shattered.

Let’s do what the mainstream press has failed to do on so many occasions and examine the known facts dispassionately.

Since the end of 2019, Radi has started to bring forward a number of allegations related to intimidation, harassment and judicial harassment, following the initiation of legal proceedings against him either by the public prosecutor or by private individuals.

To date, the three legal actions launched against Radi have nothing to do with his status as a journalist, or even with the right to freedom of expression as provided for in the Moroccan Constitution.

In this regard, the public authorities provide the necessary clarifications which refute the said allegations.

Unfounded allegations of judicial harassment.

First case: On April 6th, 2019, Omar Radi tweeted “LEHCEN TALFI, judge of the court of appeal, executioner of our brothers, let us remember him well, in many regimes the little arms like him have returned afterwards to beg by claiming (to have carried out orders); no forgetting no forgiveness for these officials without dignity ”.

These comments, constituting a contempt of Court, are a criminal offense by virtue of article 263 of the Moroccan Criminal Code. It was in this context that he was heard by the prosecution following a summons, after which he was initially placed in pre-trial detention on December 26th, 2019. The Casablanca Court of Appeal decided, on December 31th, 2019, to grant him provisional release, following a request made by his lawyer to this effect. As part of this procedure, all his rights of defense, as provided for by the law, have been guaranteed.

He was sentenced, on March 17th, 2020, to a four-month suspended imprisonment and a fine of 500 dirhams for contempt of Court; a decision against which he appealed. The hearing is scheduled for September 23th, 2020.

Similar offenses exist in the United States, and other liberal democratic countries.

Contempt of court generally refers to conduct that defies, disrespects, or insults the authority or dignity of a court. Often, contempt takes the form of actions that are seen as detrimental to the court’s ability to administer justice.

It should be noted that the case has not reached its completion yet, therefore it is too early to praise or to criticize the outcome.

It should further be noted that in the context of the political movement Radi is involved in as an activist, which was at issue in that particular case, Radi’s comments could be seen as interfering with the judicial process and as disruptive and potentially prejudical to the outcome of the case. Furthermore, in the political context of that situation, other members of the movement could interpret such comments as incitement to interfere with the process.

At no point has any of the media or human rights organizations commenting on these stories have provided the background information about the Hirak Rif movement and episodes of violence that have broken out in the course of confrontation with the authorities. Not all protesters were peaceful; there is a record of violent rioters taking a prominent role. Worth noting that parts of the Rif have been subjected to a process of radicalization and religious extremism; some of the Moroccan terrorists active in ISIS, AQIM, and other terrorist organizations originated from these susceptible communities. Also worth noting is that despite frequent media criticism of Rabat’s handling of socio-economic issues linked to underdevelopment and poverty in the region, it has in fact, invested billions of dirham into development of the Rif.

Second case: On June 24th, 2020, Omar Radi was summoned as part of a preliminary investigation carried out by the National Brigade of the Judicial Police (BNPJ) ordered under the authority of the Prosecutor’s Office, with regards to a case of funding linked to foreign intelligence. Certain Dutch parties and officials have been linked to the funding for the Rif protests and affiliated investigative journalists and activists, in the past, for years before this chain of events.

It should be noted that the King’s Prosecutor at the Casablanca Court of Appeal issued a press release dated June 24th, 2020, stating that this summons is part of an investigation into his alleged involvement in a case of obtaining funding related to foreign intelligence services. The King’s Prosecutor says that the investigation into this case is being carried out under the supervision of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, with complete observing of legal procedures.

Following the results of the BNPJ’s investigations, legal proceedings were opened on July 29th, 2020, following an indictment from the Prosecutor’s office.

Third case: Following a complaint filed by a complainant to the Royal Gendarmerie (GR) against Omar Radi for and following the results of the investigation carried out by the GR, the Prosecutor referred the case to the investigating judge at the Casablanca court of appeal to investigate the suspicions of his commission of two crimes related to indecent assault, with violence and rape, in accordance with Articles 485 and 486 of the Criminal Code.

The press release, from the Prosecutor’s office on this matter, also specifies that, following the results of the investigations carried out by the BNPJ, object of the first press release from the public Prosecutor on June 24th, 2020, the prosecution also presented an indictment for the opening of an investigation concerning the alleged involvement of Omar Radi in a case of receiving funds from foreign parties, undermining the internal security of the State and to dealing with agents of a foreign State to harm the diplomatic situation of Morocco, and this in accordance with articles 191 and 206 of the Moroccan Criminal Code.

The investigating judge decided to place him under pre-trial detention, in order to investigate the two cases.

It is worth noting that the complainant has come forward and made her assertions public. As in any complainant in such case, her testimony is evidence that should be weighed against other testimonies and corroborated. However, dismissing it out of hand due to the media-driven campaign to portray Radi as a hero would be a disgraceful miscarriage of justice, and a grotesque joke after the obsessive media coverage of the MeToo movement in WEstern countries, and the social justice warrior-led hashtag campaign of #BelieveAllWomen, which has, nevertheless, been applied with extreme selectivity in high profile political cases in the United States.

With regard to the above, it is, therefore, concluded that:

Morocco has long worked to consolidate the institutional independence of the judicial power and to ensure the efficiency and proper functioning of justice, in particular by strengthening the legislative framework of the judicial system, by virtue of the constitutional requirements for this subject.

Morocco complies with the requirements of the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals and groups and of their judicial security, and in the activation of the principles to grant a fair trial.

In this regard, Morocco adopted several laws consolidating the independence of justice, including organic law # 100.13 on the Superior Council of the Judicial Power, and law # 33.17, on September 18th, 2017 on the transfer of powers from the government authority in charge of justice to the King’s Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation in his capacity as head of the prosecution.

Under this law, the King’s Prosecutor at the Court of Cassation, in his capacity as Head of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, replaced the Minister of Justice in all the powers through which he exercised authority, control or the supervision of judges of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

In common law cases involving Omar Radi, it is up to Moroccan justice to accomplish its noble mission by guaranteeing the rights of every individual, far from any influence or confusion attempt.

The judicial treatment of cases concerning Omar Radi is carried out in accordance with the law and in strict compliance with the principles of the presumption of innocence and the confidentiality of the investigation. This treatment provides him with all the guarantees provided for by the law.

Before his remand in custody, Omar Radi continued to express his opinions freely, including uttering insults towards various parties, including the government.

Omar Radi is the only one to have disclosed elements of the investigations, in an obvious attempt to maintain the misleading perception of an alleged “judicial harassment” against him.

Regarding the allegation that the prosecution of Omar Radi is motivated by his critical views of the government

The media landscape in Morocco is characterized by its diversity, dynamism and the multiplication of its actors. For illustration:

  • For the year 2019, out of 252 publications and newspapers that filed for administrative filing, no publication was censored, banned or withdrawn;
  • 892 requests for the creation of electronic websites were submitted;
  • Out of 365 electronic press websites, officially recognized by the Ministry of Communication, none has been blocked, closed or made inaccessible due to filtering measures;
  • No audiovisual media has been censored, banned or stopped from broadcasting or had its means confiscated or seized;
  • In addition to public channels and radio stations, nineteen private radio stations operate without censorship, ban or stop of broadcasting, confiscation or seizure of a means of communication ;
  • No restriction on internet access, which remains free, and no censorship on social networks have been registered;
  • To date, 2740 press cards have been issued by the National Press Council to journalists, who freely exercise their function, without any interference from the authorities.
  • 91 correspondents and cameramen of different nationalities and continents were accredited, representing 50 foreign media. In addition, 1062 filming authorizations were issued for, national and international production companies, as well as to foreign televisions, factually reinforcing the attractiveness of Morocco for foreign media as a land of openness that poses no obstacle to the freedom of journalists and foreign correspondents and ensures respect for their independence, mobility and integrity throughout the territory of the Kingdom.

With regard to the allegation related to the denigration of Omar Radi by certain national media, it should be noted that this is an unfounded assertion insofar as these entities are not subject to any prior control on their publication. The contents of the articles published on this affair are their responsibility, and whoever feels aggrieved or offended by said contents has the means to assert their right.

It is worth noting that the Moroccan authorities, unlike Amnesty, have been transparent with respect to allegations against Radi.

Radi has not complained of being abused, threatened, or otherwise intimidated other than poorly sourced claims of surveillance which would be entirely justifiable if indeed he is a national security threat, and there is sufficient evidence justifying such concerns and level of scrutiny.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that if the allegations of abuse and rape against the complainant hold up, other victims may come forward as has already happened in other cases of revered and lionized celebrities and public heroes brought under the limelight by the media, who, in personal life, took advantage of the power their status accorded them to victimize and denigrate others. The media has upon itself the responsibility to cover any such allegations with the same level attention they have accorded to Radi’s own claims. Amnesty, too, has a duty to protect the human rights of women against violations by abusive powerful forces, including those that have been propped by Amnesty itself. Worth noting is that Hafsa Boutahar, the complainant, has worked with Radi at the same publication, which, of course, raises additional concerns about workplace sexual harassment and abuse in media environments.

Radi denied all claims and stated that Boutahar was involved in a consensual sexual relationship with him.

Boutahar, however, was a supporter of Radi and his cause, and hardly has anything to gain from his downfall, nor the inevitable probing into her private life.

As with any such matter, however, both the justice system and the media should take every effort to corroborate each claims and protect the rights of both the accused and the accuser.

Further worth noting, however, is that Radi was free to interview with the media concerning the allegations against him, and put forward no assertion that the Moroccan government spied on him due to his activities. This allegation has been put forth by Amnesty. In this relationship, Radi and Amnesty appear to be using each other to advance self-serving agenda; however, the crux of the plot here has little attention with serving up justice, or else, the evidence provided would have significantly more weight. Indeed the only purpose of this narrative that has been sold to the Western public through the uncritical media is to paint the Moroccan government in the worst light possible.

Whatever else Radi may be, his actions increasingly point to cynical opportunism rather than free-spirited idealism attributed to him by Amnesty and their supporters.

Rather than uncovering whatever larger underlying issues Radi claims to have dedicated his life to combating, the attention being drawn here is to Radi’s own purpose. Both Amnesty and its consumers are well aware that the Western public has little knowledge of nor investment into the investigation of the social issues framing this discussion, but after the scandalous Khashoggi campaign, have a tendency to be swayed by the individual stories of such injustice.

Whatever the inspiration for the current scenario, it is lacking in the drama and the gory details that make naive Western hearts bleed.

Radi is not under threat; he has not experienced violence, and most of the public is not familiar with his work. However, donors will be happy to shell out additional cash for Amnesty for the public evidence of it doing its job.

In reality, Amnesty is failing in its duty for protecting real human rights activity and society at large from fraudulent claims and manipulations by sociopaths, foreign agents, and political opportunists. Intead, its actions have contributed to the destruction of Morocco’s public image, rather than helping find a constructive way to address whatever existing issues in a way that will help the country as a whole and build stronger relationships with democratic states. It is not Radi who is in danger, but other human rights activists, whose motives will now be questioned as a result of the likes of Radi, and as a result of the media and human rights organizations failing to do their job. And it is our society that is being poorly served by excessive focus on dubious question instead of a responsible introduction to Morocco, and its triumphs, challenges, and opportunities to help overcome them.

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Irina Tsukerman

Irina Tsukerman is a New York-based human rights and national security lawyer and analyst. She has written extensively about geopolitics, foreign policy, and security issues for a wide variety of domestic and international publication. She has appeared on Fox Business, i24, and the John Batchelor Show, and has been interviewed by multiple Arabic language channels and publications, including Morocco’s 2M and Al Arabiya. Her writings have been translated to Arabic, Farsi, Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, and Indonesian.

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