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Hajar Raissouni: Given royal pardon

Hajar Raissouni

Great news! Hajar Raissouni, has just been freed after receiving a royal pardon having been sentenced to a year in prison over an 'unlawful' abortion. It is undoubtedly cause for celebration with Hajar and her family. Her case just shows how much work there is still to be done in protecting women's rights in Morocco. 

Arrested with her fiancé

Hajar Raissouni, a journalist working for the independent Moroccan newspaper Akhbar al-Yaoum, was arrested on 31 August along with her fiancé, Amin Rifaat, as they left a clinic in the capital Rabat. The doctor and two others working at the clinic were also arrested on suspicion of carrying out an abortion. After her arrest, Raissouni was detained at a police station in Rabat and on 2 September brought before a prosecutor and charged with sex outside of marriage and “consenting to have an abortion”. In Morocco, couples who engage in sex outside of marriage can be jailed for up to one year, while a woman who has had an abortion can be jailed for between six months and two years.

On 30 September, Raissouni and Rifaat were both sentenced to a year in prison, the doctor involved in the case was sentenced to two years and also banned from practising for two years, and two other members of the clinic’s medical staff were also jailed - one received a one-year prison sentence, and the other an eight-month jail term. Amnesty described the jailings as a “devastating blow for women’s rights in Morocco”. 

On 4 September, in a letter sent by Raissouni to her newspaper, she said that while in custody she was interrogated about her political writings, about one of her newspaper colleagues and about her family - including her uncle, Ahmed Raissouni, a prominent theologian and ex-president of one of the country’s largest Islamic movements. This raises concerns that Raissouni may have been targeted by the authorities in connection with her journalistic work.

Abortion illegal in nearly all circumstances

Under Moroccan law, abortion is criminalised in all circumstances unless the health of the pregnant woman is at risk and her spouse agrees. However, under international law, women have a right to bodily and personal autonomy, which includes being free to make their own sexual and reproductive decisions. Criminalisation of health services such as abortion amounts to gender discrimination.