Saturday Profile: A Victim Not Only of Unjust Laws, but of ‘Unjust Authorities’

10:24 AM Aida Alami 0 Comments

RABAT, Morocco — When Hajar Raissouni, an investigative journalist with one of Morocco’s only independent news outlets, went to her doctor’s office last August seeking treatment for a vaginal hemorrhage, she was not planning on becoming the center of a national discussion on press freedom, abortion rights and what critics say is the nation’s antiquated penal code. 

But on Aug. 31, minutes after she received the treatment, Ms. Raissouni and her fiancé, Rifaat al-Amin, were arrested — just two weeks before their wedding date. At first, she thought they were being robbed. But she quickly realized that the six men in plainclothes holding video cameras were police officers, and that she was being arrested because of her critical reporting on the Moroccan authorities.

The couple would eventually be charged with sex outside of marriage and having an abortion, both crimes in the North African kingdom, though the abortion laws are rarely enforced. Ms. Raissouni, who strongly denies having had an abortion, says she was forced by the Moroccan authorities to undergo a pelvic examination that aggravated the hemorrhage, provoking renewed bleeding.
Her physician, Dr. Jamal Belkeziz, a second doctor and an office assistant also were arrested, charged with violating abortion laws.
Their trial in September caused a sensation in Morocco, drawing crowds of supporters and protesters and unleashing a torrent of criticism from press freedom and abortion rights advocates, among others. The court’s decision to convict all five and sentence Ms. Raissouni and Mr. al-Amin, who is now her husband, to a year in prison provoked another uproar that was quieted only after the issuance of a royal pardon for all of the defendants on Oct. 16.

Naturally reserved, Ms. Raissouni is still dealing with the consequences of having her private life discussed for weeks in the national and international news media. But the case thrust her reluctantly into the headlines and onto a list of the top 10 cases of injustice against journalists, and she is determined to use her newfound celebrity to push for a political system with independent institutions and a free press.

“I was not just the victim of unjust laws but the victim of unjust authorities,” she said recently in an interview conducted in her apartment in Rabat. “My case wasn’t really about a nonexistent abortion, but it was the result of the arbitrary politics of the state.”
As terrible as this experience may have been, it seems fair to say that Ms. Raissouni seemed almost bound to fall afoul of the Moroccan authorities at some point.
She was born into a prominent family of landowners, warriors, intellectuals and political dissidents in northern Morocco, and was urged from an early age to hold those in power accountable in a country where injustice largely prevails.

Read the rest of the story on the New York Times' website.

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