Morocco police halt protest in support of jailed activists

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RABAT (Reuters) - Moroccan authorities on Tuesday stopped human rights activists from protesting outside parliament to demand the release of dissident journalists Soulaimane Raissouni, who is on a hunger strike, and Omar Radi.

Police heavily outnumbered the small group of activists who tried to gather for a sit-in in front of parliament, pushing them from the area with their riot shields.

The cases of Raissouni and Radi, both held in pre-trial detention, have drawn criticism from international rights groups who see their arrest on separate charges of sexual abuse, which both men deny, as politically motivated.

Raissouni has been held for a year and his wife and rights activists say his health is deteriorating from a hunger strike. Prison authorities said his health was normal and that he was under daily medical supervision.

Radi recently ended his own hunger strike.

The protesters outside parliament held up pictures of the two and chanted slogans calling for their release and for a fair judiciary as they were forced to leave the area.

"We came here to demand the release of Soulaimane Raissouni and Omar Radi and also to denounce the negligence and the arbitrary detention they have both suffered," Khadija Riadi of the solidarity committee with the two reporters said.

"Journalists are not demanding immunity, they just want freedom to defend themselves in a fair trial to prove their innocence," she added.

In January, a group of Moroccan rights groups described the increasing use of pre-trial detention as a human rights violation.

Moroccan authorities deny waging a campaign against free speech, saying the police and courts are just implementing national laws.

"We denounce the intervention of authorities today and their ban of our sit-in," said Abdelilah Ben Abdeslam, another rights activist.

(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi, editing by Angus McDowall and Grant McCool)

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