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Rights groups decry arrest of Moroccan journalist over alleged abortion

Hajar Raissouni, who works for an independent newspaper, says charges against her are political
Hajar Raissouni says security forces interrogated her about her work as a journalist (Facebook)

Human rights advocates are calling for the release of Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni, who has been detained over accusations of getting an illegal abortion. 

Raissouni, who works for the Akhbar al-Yaoum daily newspaper, was arrested on 31 August. Her detention has caused an international outcry, with rights groups accusing Morocco's authorities of violating the journalist's privacy and basic rights.

Heba Morayef, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa regional director, called for Raissouni's immediate release.

"The arrest of Hajar Raissouni and four others is completely unjust and these allegations are an outrageous invasion of her privacy," Morayef said in a statement on Friday.

"This case is a stark reminder of the urgent need to repeal Morocco's laws criminalising sex outside marriage and abortion. These provisions violate a number of women's rights, including the rights to bodily and personal autonomy, non-discrimination, privacy and health."

Abortion is illegal in Morocco, unless pregnancy endangers the life of the mother.

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Raissouni has denied the charges against her, saying that they were politically motivated.

In a letter to her colleagues, she said security forces interrogated her about her work as a journalist.

"They questioned me about my political writings... more than they asked me about the charges levelled against me," she wrote

Soleiman Raissouni, the journalist's uncle who also works for Akhbar al-Yaoum, told France 24 on Friday that she was subjected to an intrusive physical exam that amounted to torture, and she intends to lodge a complaint against security forces over the incident.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) also denounced Hajar Raissouni's arrest, saying that whatever the journalist does with her private life is not the authorities' business. 

"Trampling with her right to privacy and criminalising an individual freedom is, in itself, unacceptable," Ahmed Binchemsi, a communications director at HRW, said in a statement. "Add, in this case, a whiff of political manipulation since the defendant is a reporter at one of Morocco's last independent newspapers."

Raissouni's fiance, a Sudanese national, as well as her doctor have also been detained, the Moroccan Association of Human Rights said in a statement earlier this week calling for the suspects' release.

"The charges against the journalist and those who were arrested with her in the same case are rejected because they stem from actions that fall under the individual freedom of citizens," the group said. 

Abortion is punishable by as many as two years in jail in Morocco.