Thousands of Moroccan women admit breaking sex and abortion laws, risking arrest to support journalist jailed for same crimes

'We are having sex outside wedlock. We are ... being complicit of abortion,' says statement 

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Thursday 26 September 2019 15:51 BST
Morocco’s penal code bars both sex outside of wedlock and abortion unless there is a risk to the mother’s life
Morocco’s penal code bars both sex outside of wedlock and abortion unless there is a risk to the mother’s life (REUTERS)

Thousands of women in Morocco have put themselves at risk of arrest by admitting to sex outside marriage and undergoing abortions in order to show solidarity with a 28-year-old journalist who has been imprisoned for the crimes.

The North African nation’s penal code bars both sex outside of wedlock and terminations where there is no risk to the mother’s life – with official figures showing courts last year tried more than 14,500 people for “debauchery”, 3,048 for adultery, 170 for homosexuality, and 73 for having abortions.

Campaigners say thousands of women have signed a statement declaring they have broken both the unmarried sex and abortion laws in a bid to show support for H​ajar Raissouni, a reporter jailed after being charged with both acts.

The 28-year-old writes for Arabic-language newspaper Akhbar Al-Yaoum, which has a history of disputes with the authorities.

She attended court on Tuesday for the third hearing of her trial.

Those who signed the statement, which appeared on the front page of French newspaper Le Monde on Tuesday, said they would continue to break “unfair and obsolete laws” until they were overhauled.

“We are having sex outside wedlock. We are ... being complicit of abortion,” says the statement.

The declaration, penned by Franco-Moroccan author Leila Slimani and Moroccan filmmaker Sonia Terrab, now has over 7,000 signatures, which includes men among them.

“When a women empowers herself she empowers everyone around her,” Ms Terrab told The Independent.

“I am amazed by how strong and courageous Moroccan women are right now – especially the young ones. We have reached 7,000 signatures and are still going. I am so proud.”

Human Rights Watch has warned the jailing of Ms Raissouni “flagrantly violates” her rights – urging authorities to drop the charges and release her immediately, and arguing her right to privacy and liberty have been infringed.

“Hajar Raissouni is being charged for alleged private behaviour that shouldn’t be criminalised in the first place,” said Ahmed Benchemsi, the group’s Middle East and North Africa communications director.

“Moreover, by publicising detailed allegations about her sexual and reproductive life, authorities trampled on her right to privacy and apparently sought to smear her reputation.”

The arrest illustrates the nation’s “lack of respect of individual freedoms” and selective use of the law, he added.

Ms Raissouni, who comes from a famous dissident family, is religiously but not yet legally married and had been due to tie the knot with her partner Rifaat al-Amin earlier in the month. She denies having had an abortion.

Her arrest has sparked protests in the country – with critics arguing it could have been politically motivated.

Police also arrested Ms Raissouni’s fiance, the doctor who is accused of carrying out the abortion, and his two aides at the end of August and they are all still also detained. The doctor and his aides are charged with conducting an abortion and complicity in abortion and face up to a decade in jail.

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