The Moroccan authorities must immediately release and drop all charges against journalist Hajar Raissouni, who has been accused of having an abortion and having sex outside of marriage, said Amnesty International ahead of her trial session on 9 September in Rabat.
Hajar Raissouni, who works for the independent daily newspaper Akhbar al-Yaoum, was arrested on 31 August along with her fiancé Amin Rifaat, as they left a doctor’s office in Rabat. The doctor and two others working at the clinic were also arrested on suspicion of carrying out an abortion.
“The arrest of Hajar Raissouni and four others is completely unjust and these allegations are an outrageous invasion of her privacy,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Under Moroccan law sex outside of marriage is a criminal offence. Abortion is also criminalised in all circumstances unless the health of the pregnant woman is at risk and her spouse agrees. However, under international law women have a right to bodily and personal autonomy which includes being free to make their own sexual and reproductive decisions. Criminalisation of health services needed only by women, such as an abortion, amounts to gender discrimination.
“This case is a stark reminder of the urgent need to repeal Morocco’s laws criminalising sex outside marriage and abortion. These provisions violate a number of women’s rights, including the rights to bodily and personal autonomy, non-discrimination, privacy and health,” said Heba Morayef.
“Instead of intimidating Hajar Raissouni by prosecuting her on unjust charges, the authorities should immediately and unconditionally release her and drop all the charges against her and others involved in this case.”
Hajar Raissouni’s fiancé is held on the same charges as she is. The doctor and his two assistants, also in detention, are accused of practicing and participating in abortion. The doctor is also accused of regularly providing abortion services and faces up to 10 years in prison.
After her arrest, Hajar Raissouni was detained at a police station in Rabat. On 2 September, she was brought before a prosecutor and charged with sex outside of marriage and “consenting to have an abortion”.
Under Morocco’s Penal Code, couples who engage in sex outside of marriage can be jailed for up to one year. Likewise, a woman who has had an abortion can be punished with a prison term of between six months and two years and a fine.
On 5 September, the Rabat prosecutor’s office revealed results of Hajar’s medical examinations in a shocking breach of her privacy and stated the clinic she had visited was under surveillance on suspicion of providing abortion services. Her lawyer, Saad Sahli, had previously said medical tests had found no concrete evidence of an abortion.
The statement also declared that Hajar Raissouni’s arrest had nothing to do with her journalistic profession and is solely related to the criminal offences of abortion and sex outside marriage, which she denies.
On 4 September, in a letter sent by Hajar to her newspaper, she said that while in custody, she was interrogated about her political writings, one of her colleagues at Akhbar al-Yaoum and family including her uncle Ahmed Raissouni, a prominent theologist and the ex-president of the Mouvement de l’Unicité et de la Réforme,, considered to be one of the largest Islamic movements in Morocco. This raises concerns that she may have been targeted for by the authorities in connection with her journalistic work.
In May 2019, Hajar Raissouni published a series of interviews with Ahmed Zefzafi, father of Nasser Zefzafi, the Hirak El-Rif protest movement leader. She has also published articles critical of Moroccan authorities. The editor of the newspaper she works for Akhbar al-Yaoum, Taoufik Bouachrine, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on politically motivated charges in November 2018.