Journalist Hajar Raissouni freed!

On October 16, 2019, Hajar Raissouni, her fiancé, and her doctor were released from prison following a Royal Pardon granted by the king of Morocco. They had been arrested on August 31 in the capital, Rabat. On September 30, Hajar and her fiancé were sentenced to one year in prison (and the doctor to two years) after being convicted for unlawful abortion and sex outside of marriage. This was likely a politically motivated attack on Hajar for her journalistic work at newspaper Akhbar al-Yaoum. It was a blatant violation of the rights to freedom of expression and private life.

Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action appeal on Hajar’s case. Amnesty activists wrote to the head of Morocco’s government calling for freedom for Hajar, her fiancé, and the doctor. Hajar’s case garnered the support of several human rights organizations in Morocco and abroad. The response of the international community to Amnesty’s Urgent Action helped release Hajar, and sparked a conversation around women’s rights and freedom of expression in Morocco.

Hajar wrote that while in custody, she was interrogated about her political writings and was asked about one of her colleagues at Akhbar al-Yaoum newspaper and her uncle Ahmed Raissouni, the ex-president of one of the largest Islamic movements in Morocco. Hajar Raissouni had written about the Hirak El-Rif protest movement and had also published articles critical of Moroccan authorities.

Hajar’s case was a stark reminder of Morocco’s laws which deny women the right to autonomy over their bodies through the criminalization of abortion and extra-marital sex. These laws have not been changed in Morocco and so arrests may continue on these grounds. Hajar’s case also highlighted the continued crackdown on freedom of expression of journalists and human rights defenders in Morocco. Moroccan authorities should take steps to ensure the protection of the fundamental right to freedom of expression. They should also decriminalize abortion and repeal all laws that discriminate against women.