Accused of Adultery and Abortion, a Moroccan Journalist Is Arrested

Wednesday 11 September 201911:42 am
إقرأ باللغة العربية

#freedom_for_hajar_raissouni is the hashtag journalists in Morocco have been using to protest the arrest of 28-year-old Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni. She was arrested a few days ago, on charges of "engaging in illicit sex, which resulted in pregnancy and an illegal abortion."

The campaign is not only about not holding the young woman accountable for a personal choice which is her right and her bodily freedom (she denied having an abortion) but  also because it is believed that she is part of a political conspiracy because her uncle is a prominent Islamist and because she writes for an opposition newspaper

The young journalist works in Akhbar al-Youm newspaper which is owned by Taoufik Bouachrine who has been sentenced to 12 years in prison on several charges, most notably human trafficking, rape and sexual harassment, but local and international human rights defenders and organizations consider the accusations levelled against him to be “vindictive” because of his sharp editorials and his attack on palace insiders.

She is also the niece of the Moroccan preacher Ahmed Raissouni, a founding member and president of the World Federation of Muslim Scholars who was formerly head of the Tawhid and Reform Movement the missionary arm of the Islamist Justice and Development Party.

The Story

The story began on August 31, when Raissouni and her fiancé (Sudanese researcher and human rights activist Rifaat al-Amin) were arrested as they left a gynaecological and obstetric clinic in the Agdal district of central Rabat.

Moroccan security authorities accused Rissouni, as she later explained of undergoing a clandestine abortion. Her trial began on 9 September. The Authorities arrested the attending doctor, his assistant, an anesthesiologist and a nurse pending the trial. The wedding of Raissouni and Al Amin is scheduled for September 14.

There are between 500 and 800 unsafe abortions performed a day in Morocco, yet a bill that would legalize abortion remains stalled in parliament a few years after government ratification. Raissouni could serve six months to a year in prison if convicted.

While human rights activists are demanding decriminalization of abortion, religious and conservative parties, including the Justice and Development Party, oppose it.

In statements to the Moroccan prosecution, Raissouni said that she went to the doctor because of abdominal pain and bleeding. The Doctor told her that she was haemorrhaging heavily and required immediate surgery. She added she was married to Al Amin, in a religious ceremony in her family’s home.

Hajar Raissouni, arrested for adultery, happens to be the niece of Bouachrine, recently sentenced to 12 years. Human rights defenders consider the accusations “vindictive” because of his sharp editorials and his attack on palace insiders.
Moulay Hicham, a cousin Morocco’s King, believes that what happened to Raissouni is "an alarming and flagrant assault on constitutional rights and a violation of the traditional Islamic spirit which avoids defamation and slander”

She described how six plainclothes police officers surrounded her as she was leaving the gynaecologist’s clinic “they were holding cameras and filming” repeating that she had not undergone an abortion.

Akhbar Al Youm published an image of a medical certificate which shows Al Rassouni did not abort and wrote that she had been arrested “in a Hollywood like fabricated scenario all of which aim to defame and ruin her reputation”.

But the local site "Hespress" quoted an anonymous source involved with the investigations who said “ she was caught in the act and confessed to the charges against her after she had entered with a false identity as Hajar al Zayani’

Letter From Jail

Raissouni family published her first message from Al Arjat prison after they visited her on the 4th of September. In the letter, the young journalist thanked all those who supported her “I was informed about the amount of solidarity I received, thank you I remain strong”.

She explained that the conditions "in prison are much better than the torment she experienced when in the custody of the security directorate of Rabat," noting that during the investigation "security asked me about my political writings and my uncle Ahmed and my uncle Suleiman more than they asked me about the fabricated charges."

She added that she was also questioned about Afaf Bernani, a journalist with Akhbar al-Youm, who challenged the minutes of her interrogation by Moroccan security authorities in the context of Taoufik Bouachrine's case and was sentenced to prison.

"They asked me why I had gone to my fiance's house while he was travelling, so I knew I was under surveillance”.

Defamation Case

The arrest of the young journalist on these charges sparked widespread solidarity from activists and journalists. The Moroccan Forum for young journalists issued a statement of condemnation on the 3rd of September for “The defamation and intrusion into the private life of a colleague ,by a number of media outlets who do not respect the ethics of the profession” adding  that "we are aligned with all civil and human rights organizations in defending the inviolability of the private life of citizens and individual freedoms in all their forms without distinguishing between them”

The National Union of the Moroccan Press said in a statement issued on 4 September that it is following " with great interest the case of the arrest of our colleague Hajar Raissouni and our executive office is examining the particulars of the case and expresses deep concern regarding it”

The union condemned the "malicious and unethical campaign of defamation against our colleague from some media platforms, which chose not to respect principles and professional ethics in dealing with this case and we call on all journalists and outlets  to address these pernicious and abusive practices  within the profession and to respect  the presumption of innocence as a legal and human rights principle."

Local media freedom and expression organization "Hatem" described the arrest of Raissouni as "unjust", pointing out that "based on the facts and data at our disposal we have no choice but to condemn this attack on the freedom of the press and freedom of the media."

In a statement, the Moroccan Association for Citizenship and Human Rights expressed its "total and unconditional solidarity with Rissouni," criticizing "the violation of her privacy and surveilling her prior to arrest despite all the guarantees of attendance”.

Strong Support

Opinions on the Raissouni ordeal were divided between those who saw the arrest as a violation of her bodily and personal autonomy and those who believed that the young woman was part of a political conspiracy and the settling of accounts, although the majority agreed that she was a “victim”.

Morocco’s Prince Moulay Hicham, a cousin of the King,  believes that what happened to Raissouni is " an alarming and flagrant assault on constitutional rights and a violation of the traditional Islamic spirit which avoids defamation and slander” noting that “Hajar’s case and others make us wonder- where is our homeland Morocco heading?

Some mocked the criminalization of the abortion of embryos by wondering about the fate of those who “abort dreams” while others defended the “personal rights” of the young woman regardless of whether she had undergone an abortion or had premarital sex or not because “a woman's body is not public property”.

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