Moroccan rights activists demanded the release of a journalist facing trial on charges of abortion and sex outside marriage, saying her arrest was politically motivated.
Dozens of activists staged a sit-in outside the Rabat court ahead of the first hearing in her trial, chanting: “What a shame freedoms are in danger, what a shame journalism is in danger”.
Police detained 28-year-old Hajar Raissouni 10 days ago with her fiance, a doctor, a nurse and another person accused of involvement. Lawyers deny she had an abortion.
Activists say the charges against her are part of a crackdown on reporters critical of government and are intended to embarrass her uncle, a prominent Islamist leader who opposes abortion and extramarital sex.
The case prompted widespread debate on social media in Morocco, a mostly Muslim country, over personal freedoms including sex and privacy, after details were leaked to newspapers.
It has shone a new light on Morocco’s ban on abortion weeks before parliament is due to consider amendments to allow it in cases of rape, incest or malformation of the foetus.
Morocco’s public prosecutor said in a statement Raissouni’s arrest was a legal matter and not connected to her work as a journalist.
She was arrested after a visit to a doctor under police surveillance for illegal abortions, the prosecutor said.
Raissouni works for the independent newspaper Akhbar al-Youm. Her uncle, Ahmed Raissouni, is a former leader of the Movement for Unity and Reform, a leading Islamist group with ties to the Justice and Development party (PJD) that leads Morocco’s governing coalition.
Another uncle, Soulaiman Raissouni, editor in chief of Akhbar al-Youm, said she was singled out and accused government of “score settling with a newspaper that disturbs it, and with a family that never bowed”.
A journalist at Akhbar al-Youm, Khaoula Ajaafri, said the penal code was “used to crack down on critical journalists”. The newspaper’s manager was sentenced to 12 years in prison for rape and human trafficking, which he denied.
The Moroccan Association for Abortion Rights, an activist group, said 600 to 800 abortions take place illegally each day. In 2018, 41 cases were brought over illegal abortions, according to the prosecutor’s office.
“Hajar’s case shows our laws are archaic and incompatible with the transformation in our society,” said human rights activist Ahmed Assid.