The wife of a prominent Moroccan newspaper editor and critic of Saudi Arabia has described how the murdered Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi warned her husband that his life was in danger in the months before he was arrested in Morocco and jailed for offences he has consistently denied.
Asmae Moussaoui, 43, also says she believes Saudi Arabia told the Moroccan government to silence her husband Taoufik Bouachrine, 49, shortly before he was taken into custody.
Bouachrine, the editor and co-founder of the liberal Moroccan newspaper Akhbar Al Yaoum, was arrested in February 2018 after the publication of editorials in his newspaper which were critical of the Moroccan government and also of Saudi Arabia.
He was accused of multiple accounts of rape, sexual assault and people trafficking.
Independent observers were banned from the trial hearings which took place last November, at the conclusion of which Bouachrine was given a 12-year sentence.
His detention and trial were condemned by the UN Human Rights Council working group, and led to cross party calls for his immediate release by royal pardon.
However, the Moroccan government has consistently insisted his trial was fair.
When the Guardian asked about his wife’s claims that ministers were pressured by Saudi Arabia to act against Bouachrine, it declined to comment.
Instead, the Guardian’s email requests were leaked to the Moroccan news website, Le360.ma, which accused Moussaoui of a shameful attempt to try to bring international attention to the case.
Moussaoui approached the Guardian to describe the warnings she says were given to her husband by Khashoggi, a family friend, despite what she feels has been pressure from the Moroccan authorities to abandon her efforts to highlight the case.
According to Moussaoui, who is a civil servant, Khashoggi had warned her husband on numerous occasions that he was not safe in Morocco and that his “life was threatened and he had to be cautious”.
She also says the Moroccan government was under pressure from Saudi Arabia to silence her husband because he was being critical of the kingdom.
She told the Guardian that her husband had confided to her that Saudi Arabia had “complained about me” to the Moroccan government.
The complaint had been made on behalf of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who was said to be “furious and enraged because of what [Bouachrine had] published on him”, according to the account by Moussaoui.
In a statement to the Guardian, she said her husband had told her the Moroccan government had replied to the Saudis: “We are going to handle this journalist’s case our way”.
Bouachrine’s legal team says some of the messages from Khashoggi will likely be on his mobile phone, which was confiscated at the time of his arrest.
His lawyers have asked police and prosecutors to release an un-redacted call log which will help them show who he was talking to, and where, as they try to appeal against his convictions.
So far, they have only been provided with a partial report of his mobile phone activity.
In a recent submission to Dr Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, lawyers acting for Bouachrine described his arrest and trial as a “politically motivated prosecution” that could be linked to his criticism of Saudi Arabia in articles published between October 2017 and January 2018 – a month before his arrest.
“It is wholly conceivable that there has been a pattern of behaviour by the Saudi authorities in targeting dissidents and journalists, not only those who are directly connected to Saudi Arabia, but also those other individuals such as Mr Bouachrine, who are active in the Arab world,” the letter said.
The UN Human Rights Council working group has said the evidence in the case against Bouacharine, which includes grainy video footage, “is highly contested and clearly not conclusive”.
The group said there appeared to be “repeated cases of intimidation and coercion by the national authorities” to ensure his conviction.
Bouachrine said the man seen in the video is not him and that the people filmed seemed to engage in sexual acts consensually.
His Moroccan lawyer Mohammed Ziane told the Guardian that of the 15 original complainants, only five remained.
“There is no conclusive evidence (against Bouachrine), none that would be considered acceptable from a legal point of view.
“Two of the alleged victims have not provided any date or circumstances or medical statements or third party testimonies in their accusations. The three others pretend to prove their case with videos that were brought to the case outside of any legal procedure.
“We contest the authenticity of the videos. Taoufik Bouachrine categorically denies (being in them). These videos do not show, by image or sound, any threat or coercion.
“Any document that could prove his innocence has been redacted or dismissed and any request for a complementary investigation or new legal procedure that might help us show the truth is systematically refused.”
One of his alleged accusers was sentenced to six months in jail after she filed a complaint against the police for alleging her statement was falsified.
Afaf Bernani published her account on Youtube, saying she had refused to go along with the police when officers tried to include her among a group of women alleging Bouachrine had abused them.
In a statement to the Guardian, she said: “I’ve refused to accuse Taoufik Bouachrine of anything because he never harmed me in any way. So they falsified my statement.
“I then filed a complaint for forgery against the police… but finally, I am the one who finds herself condemned to six months in jail for contempt charges.
“I am frightened for myself and for my family. On the internet, at the tribunal, I am regularly insulted because I dared to complain about the Judicial Police and because I did not want to accuse Taoufik. Every day, they do their best to destroy my honour by deliberately lying about me. They are gangsters who want to kill the press.”
The Moroccan government declined to answer questions from the Guardian, having initially said it would do so.
It has previously rejected all criticism of the arrest and treatment of Bouachrine.
It has also dismissed the concerns of the UN, reportedly saying the findings of its working group were not backed with solid evidence, and sometimes relied on details to incite public opinion against governments.
The Saudi authorities did not respond to requests for comment.
Last week Callamard published a 100-page report on the murder of Khashoggi in which she highlighted a “global pattern of threats against journalists and media workers” by states who didn’t like what they were writing.
In recent months, dissidents and activists in a number of countries, including Norway and Canada, have accused Saudi Arabia of launching sophisticated hacking attacks against them.
Last week, the Guardian revealed that it had been told a cyber unit within the Kingdom had been tasked with hacking its servers. Saudi Arabia declined to comment on any of these claims.