This week, hundreds of Moroccan women signed a manifesto, proudly stating they have defied the country's unjust laws that punish sex out of wedlock and abortions.
The 490 signatories came after police officers arrested Moroccan female journalist Hajar Raissouni under the false pretense that she had undergone an abortion. Award-winning Leila Slimani, an outspoken Moroccan writer on Muslim women's sexuality, is among the hundreds who co-wrote and signed the manifesto in solidarity with the journalist. Others include Moroccan filmmaker Sonia Terrab and Moroccan politician Nabila Mounib.
"We, Moroccan citizens, declare that we are outlaws," the women said in the manifesto.
Nearly a month ago, six undercover police officers hounded Raissouni and her fiancé, a Sudanese researcher and activist, and repeatedly asked her if she had undergone an abortion — allegations she denied. Just 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.
In a recent court hearing, Raissouni revealed that police had also forced her to undergo a 20-minute "painful medical examination" while in custody without anesthetics.
The journalist's hearing came as hundreds of Moroccan women signed the joint statement in a show of solidarity with Raissouni. The women have said 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.
"My body belongs to me. It does not belong to my father, my husband, my entourage, nor the eyes of the men in the streets, and even less so, the State."
These words should be spray-painted across walls in Morocco and all countries that think policing women's bodies and choices is lawful.
"Every time a woman is arrested, I am an accomplice"
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.
On the day of her arrest, police officers had harassed the 28-year-old journalist and her fiancé, forcing them to go back to the doctor's office and claiming she had undergone an abortion. Raissouni, her fiancé, and the medical staff were all arrested on illegal abortion charges — an abortion that the victim says never happened. And even if it did happen, isn't it her body, her decision, and her right?
"Trampling on her right to privacy and criminalizing an individual freedom is, in itself, unacceptable," Human Rights Watch said in a statement following the news. 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."
Raissouni's trial has been postponed several times. On Sept. 19, a court ruled against the journalist's request for a temporary release pending trial. Following her hearing on Monday, the court postponed her trial, yet again, till Sept. 30.