The Moroccan authorities should immediately and unconditionally release Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni and drop all charges against her, says the ICJ.
She was arrested on 31 August 2019, and has been detained since then on charges relating to “extra-marital sexual relations” and, purportedly, having consented to an “illegal abortion”.
Alongside Raissouni, the Moroccan authorities arrested and detained a medical doctor and two medical staff of the clinic where she had undergone medical treatment, and her fiancé. They too should be immediately and unconditionally released and have all charges against them dropped.
Raissouni is a journalist working for the independent daily newspaper Akhbar al-Yaoum. On 31 August, Raissouni and her fiancé were stopped in Rabat as they left the clinic where, according to her lawyers, she had been undergoing treatment for internal bleeding.
Plainclothes police officers questioned the couple about the medical treatment she had been receiving, and accused the journalist of having had an abortion.
After her arrest, Raissouni was forcibly subjected to a vaginal examination. She was then charged with “having an extramarital relationship” and with “consenting to have an illegal abortion”.
“Ms Raissouni’s rights to privacy, to bodily integrity and to be free from torture and other ill-treatment, as well as her rights to liberty and security of person, including her freedom from arbitrary detention, and her right to sexual and reproductive health, have been violated by the very same authorities that are supposed to respect and protect them,” said Said Benarbia, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).
“She and others detained in connection with this case must be immediately and unconditionally released, the charges against them must be dropped, and their right to an effective remedy, including reparation must be ensured,” he added.
Raissouni, who was questioned after her arrest about her work as a journalist, recently covered mass demonstrations in the Rif region in the North of Morocco, where the protests by the local population were met with police repression.
This raises legitimate concerns over the political nature of the charges and prosecution against her.
On 5 September, the Rabat prosecutor’s office issued a public statement revealing that the results of the so-called medical examination to which Raissouni had been subjected purportedly indicated that she had undergone an abortion. The prosecutor also rejected all accusation that the charges against her were motivated by Raissouni’s work as a journalist.
On 23 September, Raissouni and the other accused, who remain in custody after their request for provisional release was rejected, appeared before the First Instance Tribunal of Rabat where they denied all charges.
In Morocco, abortion is only allowed “if necessary to protect the mother’s health” (article 453 of the Penal Code) and is otherwise publishable with up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine (article 454). Consensual sex out of wedlock is also a criminal offence under article 490 of the Penal Code, punishable with up to one year’s imprisonment. These provisions are not consistent with Morocco’s obligations under international human rights law obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Morocco is a State party.
In its 2019 report Obstacles to Women’s and Girls’ Access to Justice for Gender-based Violence in Morocco, the ICJ urged the Moroccan authorities to amend these provisions in order to recognize one’s right to sexual autonomy, among others, and to facilitate access to safe and legal abortion.
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