RABAT (Reuters) - Moroccan rights activists on Monday demanded the release of a journalist facing trial on charges of abortion and sex outside marriage, saying her arrest was politically motivated.
Dozens of activists staged a sit-in outside the Rabat court before the first hearing in her trial, chanting: “What a shame freedoms are in danger, what a shame journalism is in danger”.
Police detained 28-year-old Hajar Raissouni 10 days ago along with her fiance, a doctor, a nurse and another person accused of involvement. Their lawyers deny she had an abortion.
The activists say the charges against her are part of a crackdown on reporters critical of the government and are also intended to embarrass her uncle, a prominent Islamist leader who has opposed abortion and extramarital sex.
The case has prompted widespread debate on social media in Morocco, a mostly Muslim country, over personal freedoms including sex and privacy, after details of her case were leaked to newspapers.
It has also shone a new light on Morocco’s ban on abortion weeks before parliament is due to consider amendments to allow it in cases of rape, incest or malformation of the foetus.
Morocco’s public prosecutor said in a statement that Raissouni’s arrest was a legal matter and not connected to her job as a journalist.
She was arrested after a visit to the office of a doctor who was under police surveillance for illegal abortions, the prosecutor said.
Raissouni works for the independent newspaper Akhbar al-Youm. Her uncle, Ahmed Raissouni, is a former leader of the Movement for Unity and Reform, a leading Islamist group with ties to the Justice and Development party (PJD) that leads Morocco’s governing coalition.
Another uncle, Soulaiman Raissouni, who is editor in chief of Akhbar al-Youm, said she had been singled out and accused the government of “score-settling with a newspaper that disturbs it, and with a family that has never bowed”.
A journalist at Akhbar al-Youm, Khaoula Ajaafri, said the penal code was “being used to crack down on critical journalists”. The newspaper’s manager was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison for rape and human trafficking, which he denied.
The Moroccan Association for Abortion Rights, an activist group, said 600 to 800 abortions take place illegally each day. In 2018, 41 cases were brought over illegal abortions, according to a report released by the prosecutor’s office.
“Hajar’s case shows that our laws are archaic and incompatible with the transformations that have taken place in our society for decades,” said human rights activist Ahmed Assid.
Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi; Editing by Angus McDowall and Lisa Shumaker