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Crackdown on freedom of speech claims victims in Morocco

Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni [Twitter]
Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni [Twitter]

On August 31, Akhbar Alyaoum journalist Hajar Raissouni was arrested. Suspicion spread immediately on social media, primarily for the reasons behind the imprisonment. Raissouni, 28, was arrested near a gynecology clinic in Rabat, accused of abortion. However, developments point towards the problematic issues surrounding freedom of speech, mass surveillance and the independence of the judiciary.

State-related websites not only leaked private data from police reports, but also launched an open trial online. Instead of questioning the arrest, its circumstances and meaning for Morocco today, they accused state critics of hypocrisy and indecency. Some also demanded legalising abortion without reservation, especially as the recently amended abortion law triggered a stiff cultural debate.

Nevertheless, shifting focus away from the political aspect of the arrest has failed. Activists and online commentators insisted on debating the violations of the trial. While abortion is to be authorised only in cases of rape, incest or fetal malformation, reports reveal its frequent practice in different clinics, which raises questions regarding the singling out of Raissouni, and the clinic in question.

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Activists understand that the arrest could embarrass opponents of sexual freedom and unrestricted abortion, especially Islamist associations within which Ahmed Raissouni, Raissouni's uncle, is a key figure. More importantly, the case indirectly warns human rights seekers that their medical data may be the clue to stifling their voices and putting them behind bars.

Raissouni's lawyers, on the contrary, explicitly deny the abortion. She was approached in the street by six undercover police officers, carrying cameras outside the clinic, without privacy. They questioned her about the abortion, which she vehemently denied. Police then accompanied her to the clinic, and later obliged her to undergo an invasive examination of her womb in a public hospital, against her will.

The medical report casted more controversy, as it denied evidence of tenaculum traces, which Akhbar Alyaoum and Raissouni supporters have interpreted as another denial of the abortion. Meanwhile, the enforced, humiliating and invasive examination has been interpreted as 'rape', 'torture' and 'sexual assault', on Raissouni's body and basic rights.

The lawyer of the arrested doctor equally denied the abortion. She stressed the absence of evidence against the doctor, since he was not in the clinic when Raissouni was arrested. The secretary, who also denies the abortion, phoned him after the police, Raissouni and her Sudanese fiancé arrived at the clinic. She also conveyed surprise at the accusation against the doctor, as he has received a royal award for dedicating his life to his profession. The lawyer simply describes the whole event as "theatre play", accusing the public prosecution not only of directing it, but also of maltreating the gynecologist.

After a few days of silence, the Public Prosecution issued a press release, explaining that the clinic had been under surveillance, due to suspicion of repeated illegal abortions. This is said to be the reason why they intercepted the journalist, regardless of her job or family, along with her fiancé, a doctor and an anesthetist of the clinic.

READ: Submitted to medical examinations, Moroccan journalist accuses police of torture

There are several unanswered and significant questions which arise from this case. If the clinic had been surveyed, why was Raissouni caught in the street instead of during the alleged crime? How long did the surveillance last? If Raissouni was arrested by coincidence because the police were looking for evidence of illegal abortion in the clinic, is she the only woman to visit the clinic, supposedly for abortion, in the given period? If her case is enough evidence, why have the clinic owners not been summoned? And if her case is not enough, is the monitoring still ongoing? Above all, why is Raissouni in custody like a dangerous criminal? Why has the court rejected numerous requests for her release from lawyers, national and international bodies? Is it because she has covered the Rif Hirak recently? Or is it because she is a relative of state critics?

Raissouni's surname is not unfamiliar in Morocco these days. In addition to Ahmed Raissouni, Soulaiman Raissouni, the left-leaning journalist and editor-in-chief of Akhbar Alyaoum, is her uncle too. They have all been critical of recent political events, which feeds suspicions that the arrest is politically motivated and fabricated to discipline the Raissounis and their followers, of their stances on political events.

Soulaiman Raissouni, in particular, has leveled much criticism at state misdeeds. In his editorials, he usually highlights the inconsistencies in political decisions, the pitfalls in governmental projects, the discrepancies between the squandered public funds and the meager results on the ground, as well as the rising aspects of despotism in the kingdom.

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Soulaiman Raissouni's articles circulate widely amid political setbacks. Contrarily, the official propaganda and scandal machine inflates the priority of trivial violations, spreading the impression that the kingdom enjoys stability due to public happiness and satisfaction.

Therefore, in a turbulent region, the deep state needs to learn from developments in neighboring Algeria, for instance. Contrariwise, it prefers to smother consistent sympathy with its 'opponents', or sustained criticism of its ineffective decisions and choices, especially as corruption reports are plentiful and the government cabinet is being changed.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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