Her smile was striking, wide and slightly ironic. Sitting up straight on the defendants’ bench in a court in Rabat, Morocco on Monday this week, Hajar Raissouni was not letting the situation get her down.
Yet this 28-year-old journalist would have good reason to feel defeated. Arrested on August 31 with her fiancé, her gynecologist, and his two assistants, she has remained in prison ever since, facing two accusations – abortion and sexual relations outside marriage – which could earn her up to two years in prison. Her co-defendants could face sentences of 2 to 10 years for abortion and complicity in abortion.
The lawyers spoke one after the other at the bar, raising multiple procedural irregularities. They also reminded the court of the position of the doctor and his patient, who strongly deny abortion, presenting detailed evidence.
But others took a step back: they reminded the court that Morocco has ratified the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees everyone’s right to privacy. The government has no business interfering in people’s bedrooms. The criminalization of sex outside marriage is absurd and should be abolished.
As for abortion, its criminalization jeopardizes numerous fundamental human rights, including the right to life, the right to health, the right to privacy, and the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. Why? Because criminalization often leads to secret abortions which are much more dangerous and lead to medical complications and maternal deaths. An average of between 600 and 800 secret abortions take place in Morocco every day.
This Thursday, the judge will decide whether to order the provisional release of Hajar and her co-defendants. The trial will resume on September 25. We will be there.