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CASABLANCA, (Morocco): Moroccan journalist and rights activist Omar Radi has been sentenced on appeal to six years in prison on spying and rape charges.

Radi, a 35-year-old freelance journalist and a vocal critic of the authorities, has insisted on his innocence throughout his two-year-long trial.

“My only fault is to have demanded independent justice,” Radi said before the judge’s verdict on Thursday, to applause from supporters in the courtroom.

Accused of undermining state security with “foreign financing” and of rape, Radi was initially sentenced last July.

His trial began in 2020 just days after human rights group Amnesty International said Moroccan authorities had planted Pegasus spyware on his cellphone — a claim Morocco denied.

Rights activists, intellectuals and politicians both inside the country and abroad had protested Radi’s arrest and detention.

Earlier this week, the prosecution had called for “the maximum sentence” against him.

Rape is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

After the original sentence was upheld, defence lawyer Miloud Kandil called it “a very hard judgement”.

“We have exposed all the elements proving the innocence of Omar Radi before the court but sadly nothing has been taken into account,” he told AFP.

In the same case, fellow journalist Imad Stitou was sentenced to one year in prison, half of it suspended.

Stitou, who was initially presented as the sole witness for the prosecution, was said to have been present with Radi when he allegedly raped a woman.

Stitou is in Tunisia and was tried in absentia.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) called Friday for Radi’s “immediate” release, saying his and Stitou’s trials were “marred by numerous irregularities” and that they had been arbitrarily detained.

“This verdict confirms the bias of the Moroccan authorities” against independent journalists, the press freedom watchdog’s North Africa chief Souhaieb Khayati said.

Radi’s is the latest in a series of harsh sentences passed against journalists in the North African kingdom and in neighbouring Algeria.

Authorities in both countries have detained and tried journalists on charges ranging from harming national interests to sexual assault.

Morocco is currently ranked 136th out of 180 countries on watchdog RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.

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