Her trial was postponed numerous times only to have her convicted under the false pretense that she had undergone an abortion. A Rabat court has sentenced Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni to one year in prison on charges of having an illegal abortion and premarital sex. Both her fiancé and the doctor accused of performing the abortion were sentenced for one year and two years, respectively.
At the end of August, six undercover police officers hounded Raissouni and her fiancé, repeatedly asking her if she had undergone an abortion — allegations she denied. Five days after her arrest, a medical report signed by a doctor at Rabat's Ibn-Sina Hospital claimed Raissouni had had an abortion. The report also claimed it to be Raissouni's second abortion in six months, according to Morocco World News. However, the newspaper Raissouni works at - Al Akhbar Al Yaoum - drew attention to the inconsistencies present in the report, proving it's actually been fabricated.
According to the medical report, "there is no trace of a tenaculum [a scissor-like surgical instrument] being used on Hajar's uterus." The newspaper then noted that "abortion is impossible without the use of a tenaculum."
"The blatant injustice didn't break their spirit"
In a letter from prison, the 28-year-old journalist reiterated that the charges had been "fabricated." TrialWatch, a subset of the Clooney Foundation for Justice - which monitored Raissouni's trial - said that it bore "the hallmarks of an unfair and punitive process."
"The defense asserted that blood tests revealed that the levels of pregnancy hormone in the defendant's blood were so low that it would have been impossible for her to be eight weeks pregnant as the police's doctor claimed."
Aside from fabricating claims, police had also forced Raissouni to undergo a 20-minute "painful medical examination" without anesthetics while in custody, the journalist revealed in a court hearing last week.
Prior to the verdict, hundreds of Moroccan women released a joint statement in a show of solidarity with Raissouni. The women declared that they have unashamedly broken the country's regressive laws that police women's bodies and choices.
"We are violating unfair and obsolete laws. We are having sex outside of marriage. We are suffering, enabling, or being complicit of abortion. We learned to deal with it and pretend. But for how long?" the women wrote.
In Morocco, it is illegal for abortions to be carried out; both the doctor and the pregnant woman are barred from respectively performing and undergoing the procedure. However, Article 453 of Morocco's Penal Code stipulates that "abortion is not punishable if it is practiced to preserve the mother's health in case of a medical threat." However, even in such cases, a husband's approval is mandatory.
In 2016, the government approved a number of amendments to the Penal Code, one of which legalized abortion in cases of rape, incest, situations where the mother has serious mental health issues, or when the fetus has a serious illness or malformation. However, these changes have not been implemented yet.
According to the Institution National de Solidarité avec les Femmes en détresse (INSAF), more than 210,000 unmarried mothers were recorded in Morocco between 2003 and 2009. Over this period, 24 children were abandoned per day. In a bid to protest women's freedom to abortion, sex, and right to make decisions for their own bodies, people have also launched the hashtag #FreeHajar in protest of Raissouni's case. They have not stopped tweeting in support of her most basic right — privacy.
"Trampling on her right to privacy and criminalizing an individual freedom is, in itself, unacceptable," Human Rights Watch said in a statement last month. The rights group has demanded the release of Raissouni because, after all, "whatever Hajar does (or not) in her private life is nobody's business."