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Moroccan journalist receives one-year prison sentence for 'illegal abortion'

Youssef Boudlal, Reuters | A Moroccan activist holds a poster with an image of Hajar Raissouni, a journalist charged with fornication and abortion, during a protest outside the Rabat tribunal, Morocco September 9, 2019.

Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni was sentenced in a Rabat court Monday to one year in jail for having had an “illegal abortion” and sexual relations outside marriage.

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Her gynaecologist was given two years and her Sudanese fiance one year in prison, while an anaesthetist was handed a one-year suspended sentence and a medical assistant eight months, also suspended.

Lawyers for 28-year-old Raissouni had called for her acquittal during the trial, denying she had had an abortion.

“This trial had no foundation – the accusations were baseless,” said defence lawyer Abdelmoula El Marouri after the verdict.

A journalist for Akhbar Al-Yaoum – an Arabic-language newspaper which has a history of run-ins with the authorities – Raissouni was sentenced under Article 490 of the legal code of the Muslim kingdom.

That article punishes sexual relations out of wedlock, while the law also forbids all abortions unless the mother’s life is in danger.

Meriem Moulay Rachid, lawyer for the convicted gynaecologist, said: “The judicial system has had its word, (but) we will appeal.”

Relatives of Raissouni also told AFP that they would appeal.

Raissouni had appeared serene when arriving at the courtroom, wearing a black veil covering her head.

She waved to her relatives before taking her place in the dock.

‘Political trial’

Raissouni was arrested on August 31 as she left a clinic in Rabat.

In court, she denied having had an abortion and said she had been treated for internal bleeding – testimony backed up by her gynaecologist.

The journalist denounced a “political trial”, saying she had been questioned by police about her family – including an uncle who is an outspoken Islamist newspaper columnist – and about her own writing.

The prosecution insisted she had been seen by a medic and showed signs of pregnancy and of having undergone a “late voluntary abortion”.

It had contended her detention had “nothing to do with her profession as a journalist”.

The reporter herself said she had been “forced into a medical examination without her consent”.

"Unfortunately, for the past two decades, a lot of journalists have been prosecuted for charges that are unrelated to their reporting," freelance journalist Aida Alami told FRANCE 24. "It's become a pattern whenever a journalist bothers the state too much – a case comes up, they're found guilty and it kind of neutralizes their ability to be critical."

Raissouni's lawyers said that medical examination was a “humiliation tantamount to torture”, while they also pointed to “judicial police failures” and “fabricated evidence”.

The case has caused a storm in Morocco, creating debate on personal freedoms in the North African state and on the treatment of critical figures.

It has also received significant attention far beyond the country’s borders.

Reporters Without Borders say Raissouni’s treatment amounted to “meddling in the private lives of journalists and the use of personal information” with the intent of defamation.

Between 600 and 800 back-shop abortions occur each day in Morocco, according to estimates by campaign groups.

In a manifesto published on September 23 by various Moroccan media outlets, hundreds of women declared themselves “outlaws” by claiming to have already violated the “obsolete” laws of their country on abortion and other social norms.

In the early 1970s, in a similar text, French women calling themselves the “343 sluts” famously declared they had had an abortion when it was still illegal.

Last year, Morocco tried thousands of people for sex out of wedlock, 170 people for being gay and 73 for pregnancy terminations.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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