The United States on Monday criticized its ally Morocco for handing a five-year prison sentence to a journalist and urged the kingdom to protect media freedom.
The State Department said it was "disappointed" by Friday's sentencing of Soulaimane Raissouni, the editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Akhbar Al Yaoum whose allies say he was targeted for his critical coverage.
Raissouni, who has lost a significant amount of weight after a hunger strike of more than 90 days, was convicted of indecent assault against another man, making him the latest in a string of journalists prosecuted for alleged sex crimes.
"We believe the judicial process that led to this verdict contradicts the Moroccan system's fundamental promise of fair trials for individuals accused of crimes and is inconsistent with the promise of the 2011 constitution and His Majesty King Mohammed VI's reform agenda," State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.
"Press freedom is foundational to prosperous and secure societies, and governments must ensure that journalists can safely perform their essential roles without fear of unjust attention, violence or threats," he said.
But the Moroccan prosecutor's office said Raissouni received a "fair" trial and had been "prosecuted for crimes that have nothing to do with his journalistic work."
Price said the United States was also raising with Morocco other cases of journalists including that of Omar Radiwho has, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, been held in solitary confinement on charges of sexual assault and undermining state security.
Morocco is a longstanding ally of the United States, which under former president Donald Trump recognized its claim to disputed Western Sahara as the kingdom agreed to normalize relations with Israel.