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Lawyers for jailed Morocco journalist urge phone release to Khashoggi probe

media Taoufiq Bouachrine, director of Morroccan daily Akhbar al-Youm, during a court appearance in 2009 -- one of several run-ins with Moroccan authorities that culminated in a 12-year prison sentence last year AFP/File

Lawyers for a jailed Moroccan journalist Friday urged a UN special rapporteur to request that authorities release his phone, to retrieve an "exchange of messages" with murdered Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.

"Arbitrarily detained Moroccan journalist Taoufik Bouachrine's defence urges Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur" to make a request to the Moroccan authorities for access to Bouachrine's phone, the detained journalist's lawyers said in a statement.

Khashoggi -- a contributor to the Washington Post and a critic of the Saudi government -- was killed and dismembered in October at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul by a team of 15 agents sent from Riyadh. His body has not been recovered.

Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, is conducting an independent inquiry into Khashoggi's grisly demise.

The statement said Bouachrine's counsel had sent a letter to Callamard urging her to request release of the phone, which it said had been confiscated by Moroccan authorities.

Bouachrine has said that his phone "contains messages from Jamal Khashoggi warning him of existing threats against him", the statement added.

It cited messages exchanged between October 2017 and January 2018 as likely to be of particular relevance to the special rapporteur's investigation.

Khashoggi's warnings to Bouachrine regarding his safety stemmed from "the many articles he (Bouachrine) had published that were critical of Saudi Arabia and (Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman", the statement by Bouachrine's lawyers added.

A Moroccan court sentenced Bouachrine to 12 years in prison in November 2018, after he was found guilty of human trafficking, abuse of power for sexual purposes, rape and attempted rape.

Bouachrine maintains his innocence and has described his convictions as politically motivated, while rights group Amnesty International has called for his release.

Bouachrine's newspaper Akhbar Al-Yaum has long been known for editorials and cartoons critical of the Moroccan authorities.

Khashoggi told Bouachrine "not to travel to Saudi Arabia, and also alerted him that he was in danger of being killed" even in Morocco's capital Rabat, the statement said.

A UN Human Rights Council working group reported in January that Bouachrine was the victim of "arbitrary detention" and "judicial harassment".

It also cited a lack of evidence and alleged witness intimidation.

Moroccan authorities firmly deny the accusations.

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