Victims’ rights versus press freedom: the rival voices of Moroccan journalists
A battle is being played out in a controversial rape case in Morocco between press freedom and victims’ rights. The accused is a well-known Moroccan journalist; the alleged victim was an unknown person. Both may be victims of the system, but whose voice is heard?
Moroccan journalist Hafsa Boutahar filed a complaint against a well-known journalist, Omar Radi, alleging that he raped her in July 2020. According to Boutahar, Radi, who had been drinking all evening, took advantage of the confinement situation under the Moroccan COVID-19. lockdown, when they and another colleague were assigned to sleep one night in the basement of their employer’s house where they worked, to force her to have sex.
After careful consideration, Boutahar said, she decided to go to the public prosecutor 10 days after the alleged rape. Currently pending before a court in Casablanca, the case has been the subject of significant national and international press due to the notoriety of Boutahar’s alleged attacker.
The widespread media narrative, however, portrayed her not as a victim of rape, but as a tool the Moroccan state is using to silence a disruptive journalist who has spoken out against government violations of human rights. civilians and humans and freedom of the press.
Long before the pandemic, Morocco was cracking down on journalists critical of government policies and corruption. Like Radi, a number of them have been charged with sexual assault in addition to other crimes against the state. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says this has become Morocco’s pernicious and widespread method of silencing problematic journalists and critics.
In April, CPJ joined a statement with 14 other rights organizations calling for the “weaponization of sex crimes accusations by [Moroccan] authorities, including consensual sex, in order to discredit and even imprison dissidents”.
Radi has been in pretrial detention since July 2020 on charges of rape as well as other charges. His rape trial was due to start on April 6, but the court postponed it without explanation to April 27, then May 18 and now June 1.
Radi began a hunger strike on April 9, but was forced to end it on April 30 due to illness. He suffers from debilitating Crohn’s disease, according to his family.
Despite the speed with which she came forward and the clarity with which she recounted the details of the rape, since filing her complaint, Boutahar has been vilified in the press, on social media and by many fellow journalists and former journalists. friends. Almost all sided with Radi, dismissing his story and calling it a fabrication and/or a plot with the state to bring him down.
Boutahar has been publicly – and unethically – criticized by lawyers defending Radi in the ongoing rape case.
The negative consequences of his denunciation were significant for Boutahar. Not only did she also lose her job at LeDesk, but she was constantly harassed in tweets and Facebook posts. His Twitter account was inundated with men calling him the vilest names, their tweeted replies in the Moroccan dialect worse than vulgar. They threatened to publish allegedly incriminating photographs of her.
Since going public, she has been victimized time and time again, facing public hostility, ostracism and outright threats. This sustained campaign of harassment has damaged his physical and mental health.
— Hafsa Boutahar (@hafsa_boutahar) May 4, 2021
Boutahar contacted human rights organizations in Morocco and elsewhere. Most international human rights organizations simply ignored it. Morocco’s leading human rights NGO, the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH-Association Marocaine des Droits Humains) flatly rejected his request.
When she asked for help and support, the AMDH questioned her like a criminal, according to Boutahar. Even before they met her, they forwarded her written correspondence requesting the meeting to her alleged rapist for comment.
Many outlets reported the story with one-sided coverage without asking him for comment. The most glaring example, according to Boutahar, is that of Washington To post editorial criticizing the rape charges brought by the Crown prosecutor against Radi. She said the Post had not contacted her.
What is most striking is the alignment against her not only of journalists, but also of human rights activists who might be expected to defend the rights of an alleged rape victim. The mentality of blaming the victim is so ingrained and the taboo of reporting a rape so intense that her voice has been marginalized. The effective impact is that his alleged rape was subordinated to the supposedly higher ideal of freedom of the press.
Freedom of the press does not trump women’s rights. Victims’ allegations must be taken seriously. They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. They deserve to have their voices heard. They must not be silenced by the press or in the court of public opinion. They deserve their day in court.
For journalists to do otherwise is against professional guidelines on how journalists should treat victims: fairly, even when their colleagues are accused by them.
The Moroccan National Press Union said Boutahar had the right to seek justice in court. It is uncertain whether it can prevail under Moroccan law. Stephanie Willman Bordat, a lawyer and founder of Mobilizing for Rights Associates in Rabat, said Morocco has a sexual assault standard that is “very difficult to meet”.
Boutahar took a stand to control his story, claim his dignity and demand justice. Despite the backlash that has clearly affected her, she has been tireless in her crusade for equity and women’s rights.
On March 10, she held a press conference and spoke out against organizations whose mission is to protect human rights. They did not listen to her, she claimed, let alone support her right to seek justice in court. She urged women to speak out against sexual violence, even when local and international human rights organizations turn their backs on them.
“What happened to me is true,” she said. “I fight alone and I won’t stop until I regain my dignity.”
Editor’s note: This article is based in part on an interview with Hafsa Boutahar on November 12, 2020.
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