RABAT (Reuters) - A Moroccan court has sentenced an investigative reporter to 10 months of prison for "taking part in adultery", his lawyers said, but rights groups said it was another blow to freedom of speech in the North African kingdom.
Hicham Mansouri, who is working for the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism (AMJI), was arrested earlier in March after dozen of police officers stormed his flat in Rabat.
AMJI is an investigative journalists group formed several years ago by Moroccan reporters and financed by the Copenhagen-based International Media Support organization.
Moroccan authorities have not recognized the group.
Mansouri and his partner were sentenced on Tuesday to 10 months in prison and fined 40,000 dirhams ($4,019) each, his lawyers Naima El-Guellaf and Adelaziz Nouidi said.
"The woman who was with him when they were arrested told him (Mansouri) that she was divorced," Nouidi said. "It was impossible to prove adultery, because they were not caught in the act."
Four years after the Arab Spring uprisings that swept away regimes elsewhere in north Africa, critics say Morocco is letting slide the freedoms King Mohammed promoted as a concession to protesters in 2011.
"This was a political trial without doubt," said Khadija Ryadi, a member of a committee formed to defend Hicham Mansouri. "The government has used such accusations before to crack down on journalists and opponents."
Authorities denied those allegations and said the arrest conformed to local Moroccan law. Spokesmen for the government and the communications minister could not immediately be reached for comment.
Moroccan television is tightly controlled by the state. Text journalists enjoy more freedom, but run the risk of being imprisoned for critical writings.
Outspoken publications have been forced out of business, mostly by what they say is political pressure on their advertisers to reduce spending.
Another news editor in Morocco faces terrorism charges for posting a link on his website to an al Qaeda video threatening the kingdom, although he was released on bail last year.
($1 = 9.9520 Moroccan dirhams)
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Dan Grebler)