Moroccan journalist jailed on abortion charges

Observers say Hajar Raissouni’s sentence has ‘hallmarks of an unfair and punitive process’

Members of the press sit outside a Moroccan court during the trial of Hajar Raissouni, a Moroccan journalist jailed for  alleged sexual relations outside marriage and an illegal abortion. Photograph: AFP

Members of the press sit outside a Moroccan court during the trial of Hajar Raissouni, a Moroccan journalist jailed for alleged sexual relations outside marriage and an illegal abortion. Photograph: AFP

 

A Moroccan journalist has been sentenced to a year in prison on charges of having an illegal abortion and premarital sex, in a trial observers say was concocted to crack down on criticism of the government.

A Rabat court sentenced journalist Hajar Raissouni to one year in prison, on charges of “having an illegal abortion and sexual relations outside marriage”. Her fiancee, prof Rifaat al-Amin was given a one-year sentence for alleged complicity.

Dr Mohammed Jamal Belkeziz, accused of performing the abortion, was sentenced to two years in prison.

Raissouni previously described the charges as “fabricated”, in a letter from prison. The defendants maintain that the abortion never took place, and that Raissouni was targeted by the Moroccan authorities for her work with the independent Moroccan outlet Akhbar al Yaoum, where she won praise for her coverage of unrest in the country’s north.

Raissouni’s lawyer, Muhammad Sadkou, branded the verdict “regressive”. He added that the judge’s decision meant that the Moroccan state’s claims to respect international conventions guaranteeing rights and freedoms were “lies that have nothing to do with reality.”

Raissouni was arrested outside a clinic in Rabat along with her fiance on August 31st. Plainclothes police interrogated the 28-year-old, before detaining Dr Belkeziz and two medical staff who said they had performed an emergency procedure on Raissouni to remove a blood clot.

The journalist was then forced to submit to a gynaecological examination.

Her supporters and observers say that her arrest, interrogation and trial represent a state-led effort to publicly shame Raissouni and dissuade others from similar criticism.

The lawyer for Dr Belkeziz later provided medical evidence to the court to demonstrate that Raissouni never underwent an abortion.

Observers maintained that the charges against Raissouni were fabricated. TrialWatch, a subset of the Clooney Foundation for Justice which monitored Raissouni’s trial, said that it bore “the hallmarks of an unfair and punitive process”.

“The evidence did not sustain the charges,” it said. “The defence asserted that blood tests revealed that the levels of pregnancy hormone in the defendant’s blood were so low that it would have been impossible for her to be eight weeks pregnant as the police’s doctor claimed.”

Morocco ranks 135 out of 180 countries for press freedom on Reporters Sans Frontieres World Press Freedom Index, which says the Moroccan authorities frequently use the courts to harass reporters - including those who covered unrest in the country’s north Rif region.

“This is a blow to women’s rights in Morocco,” said Raouia Briki, Amnesty International’s campaigner on Morocco. “It’s a sign that reforms to the regressive abortion law and the law which criminalises sex outside marriage are urgent.” - Guardian