On the last day of August, just a few days before her reportedly scheduled wedding ceremony, journalist Hajar Raissouni was arrested in Morocco. Six undercover police officers hounded her and her fiancé, a Sudanese researcher and activist, as soon as they had left a gynecologist's office in Adgal, Rabat.
The police "were filming me with cameras," one journalist reported Raissouni said at the time, and they 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 so-called report also claimed it was Raissouni's second abortion in six months, according to Morocco World News. However, the newspaper Raissouni works for - Al Akhbar Al Yaoum - drew attention to the inconsistencies present in the report, in a bid to prove that 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."
"Criminalizing an individual freedom"
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, 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 is demanding the release of Raissouni because, after all, "whatever Hajar does (or not) in her private life is nobody's business."
According to local reports, Raissouni was officially acquitted by a medical report required by the judicial police, proving that she had not undergone an abortion. The next court session is scheduled to take place on Sept. 9, when all new evidence will be presented. Until then, Raissouni will remain in custody.
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 body, people have launched the hashtag #FreeHajar in a show of solidarity with Raissouni.