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News > Morocco

Moroccan Court Jails Journalist on Abortion Charge

  • Moroccan activists hold posters of Hajar Raissouni, a journalist charged with having sex before marriage and having an illegalabortion, during a protest outside the Rabat tribunal, Morocco, September 9, 2019.

    Moroccan activists hold posters of Hajar Raissouni, a journalist charged with having sex before marriage and having an illegalabortion, during a protest outside the Rabat tribunal, Morocco, September 9, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 1 October 2019

Raissouni works for Akhbar al-Youm, an independent newspaper that has been critical of the state, and is the niece of a Muslim theologian who is a former leader of a politically influential Islamist group.

Reporter Hajar Raissouni was sentenced Monday to a year in prison on charges she had an abortion and engaged in sex outside marriage.

Latin American Women Mark International Safe Abortion Day

The 28-year-old reporter's fiance, Sudanese national Rifaat al-Amin, was likewise condemned to spend a year behind bars.

The doctor accused of performing the abortion received a two-year prison term, while two people who assisted him in the procedure were found guilty but given suspended sentences.

"It's a verdict that is contradictory to the spirit of the law and to the science, because there was evidence that demonstrates there was not an abortion," defense attorney Abdelmoula Marouri said.

All five defendants were consistent throughout the trial in denying that an abortion took place inside the gynecologist's office in Rabat where Raissouni says she went to seek treatment for a blood clot.

Family and friends of the defendants wept and cried out in anger following the reading of the verdict in a courtroom packed with human rights activists, lawyers and representatives of both domestic and international media outlets.

"We think ... that there were enormous irregularities at the time of Raissouni's arrest," Charki Lahrach, a reporter with Moroccan weekly Telquel, told Efe.

She added that more than 150 of Raissouni's media colleagues signed a manifesto condemning what they saw as a "great campaign of defamation" against her.

Raissouni and her fiance were arrested on Aug. 31 as they were leaving the gynecologist's office, raising suspicions that authorities had the clinic under surveillance.

Raissouni said police had taken her for forcible medical checks against her will and had asked her about her work at the newspaper and about her uncles.

The Moroccan Association for Human Rights, an independent rights group, said the medical checks carried out without her consent amounted to torture.

In court, the prosecutor dismissed any suggestion of procedural irregularities, and said that the circumstances of Raissouni's arrest had been legal and the case had nothing to do with her work as a journalist.

None of the 73 abortion trials held in Morocco last year attracted the kind of attention generated by the Raissouni case.

Rights groups said her trial was part of a crackdown on critical reporters. Another journalist, Hamid El Mahdaoui, who covered protests in the Rif region, was sentenced last April to three years in jail for not reporting a crime against state security.

Raissouni's uncle, Ahmed Raissouni, is a former leader of the Movement for Unity and Reform, an Islamist group close to the Justice and Development party (PJD) that leads Morocco’s governing coalition.

Another uncle, Souliman Raissouni, is editor-in-chief of Akhbar al-Youm and a vocal critic of the state. He said Raissouni had been "singled out" and accused the state of trying to settle scores with his family and his newspaper.

The Moroccan Association for the Fight against Clandestine Abortion estimates the number of abortions terminations carried out in the country at anywhere from 600 to 800 a day.

While some of those procedures take place under relatively safe conditions, others are done by healers with no formal medical training.

More broadly, the prosecution of Raissouni has heightened the focus on efforts now under way in parliament to revise Morocco's 1950s-era penal code, which severely restricts abortion and criminalizes homosexuality and extramarital sex.

This is not the first time Moroccan progressives have called for liberalizing the code, but unlike the previous occasions, the Islamist Justice and Development Party does not seem to be mounting a major effort to block decriminalization of abortion and extramarital sex.

Raissouni writes for Akhbar Al Yaoum, one of the few Moroccan media outlets critical of the government. 

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