A Moroccan journalist has been sentenced to a year in prison on charges of premarital sex and having an abortion; charges observers say were fabricated as part of a crackdown on reporters critical of the government.
Hajar Raissouni, 28, was arrested along with her fiancé, Rifaat al-Amin, as they left a gynecologist’s office in Rabat in August. Al-Amin was given a one-year sentence for complicity, and the doctor accused of providing the abortion, Dr. Mohammed Jamal Belkeziz, was sentenced to two years.
But the defendants say there was no abortion, and that Raissouni had visited the doctor only to seek treatment for internal bleeding she was experiencing. Instead, they maintain the charges were in retaliation for Raissouni’s work with the independent outlet Akhbar al Yaoum, where she has extensively covered unrest in northern Morocco.
According to The Guardian,
Raissouni was arrested outside a clinic in Rabat along with her fiance on 31 August. Plainclothes police interrogated the 28-year-old, before detaining 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 Belkeziz later provided medical evidence to the court to demonstrate that Raissouni never underwent an abortion.
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TrialWatch, a subset of the Clooney Foundation for Justice founded by George and Amal Clooney, found that Raissouni’s trial bore “the hallmarks of an unfair and punitive process,” writing that the defense asserted that blood tests found it would have been impossible for Raissouni to be eight weeks pregnant, as the prosecution claimed.
Abortion is illegal in Morocco except when the woman’s life is threatened and with a husband’s permission. While it’s infrequently prosecuted, Moroccan authorities do use it as a cudgel to punish those they deem too critical, including journalists.
Ahmed Benchemsi, regional director for Human Rights Watch, called the verdict a “black day for freedom in Morocco,” as well as a “blatant injustice, a flagrant violation of human rights, and a frontal attack on individual freedoms.” The country currently ranks 135 out of 180 countries for press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index.