Moroccan Journalist Sentenced to One Year in Jail for Having an Illegal Abortion

Hajar Raissouni, who published interviews with protesters prior to her arrest, said she was interrogated mostly about her work

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Supporters of Hajar Raissouni demonstrate outside a courthouse holding her trial, Marrakesh, Morocco, September 9, 2019
Supporters of Hajar Raissouni demonstrate outside a courthouse holding her trial, Marrakesh, Morocco, September 9, 2019Credit: AFP

A Moroccan journalist accused of undergoing an illegal abortion after becoming pregnant while being single was sentenced to one year in prison Monday in a case that gained attention among journalists and rights groups.

Hajar Raissouni, 28, has been jailed since August 31. She denied having had an abortion and claimed she was married to her Sudanese fiancé under Islamic law.

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The fiancé also received a one-year sentence while the doctor accused of terminating the pregnancy was sentenced to two years in jail and suspended from practicing for two years upon his release, the court said.

Raissouni's lawyers said they would appeal the sentence.

While in custody, Raissouni said she was mostly interrogated about her work as a journalist, her colleagues at the Arabic-language Akhbar al-Yaoum newspaper — a major daily critical of the state — and family members.

In May, Raissouni published interviews with Ahmed Zefzafi, the father of Nasser Zefzafi, leader of the Hirak Rif poverty-fighting protest movement.

Her uncle Suleyman Raissouni, the editor in chief at her newspaper, said the decision was "shocking."

"If this verdict confirms anything, then it would be that this arrest was (an act of) revenge against Hajar and her editorial family at the newspaper," he told The Associated Press.

Suleyman Rissouni, uncle of journalist Hajar Rissouni and editor in chief of Akhbar Al-Youm speaks to the media, Rabat, Morocco, September 30, 2019Credit: Mosa'ab Elshamy,AP

Raissouni's arrest sparked a wave of pro-abortion protests across the country, with many seeing her case as a serious blow to the progress of women's rights in Morocco. Before Monday's ruling, the court had twice denied requests for her temporary release.

Abortions are illegal in Morocco as is premarital sex, but Raissouni claimed she was arrested outside a clinic she visited for an "urgent intervention," not an abortion. Police reportedly forced Raissouni to have a medical exam at the time of her arrest.

Amnesty International had called for Morocco to drop charges and release her.