Amid Protests, Moroccan Journalist Hajar Raissouni Appears in Court on Charges of Illegal Abortion

Demonstrators hold up a sign showing the portrait of Hajar Raissouni, a Morrocan journalist of the daily newspaper Akhbar El-Youm, with a caption below in Arabic reading "My body, My freedom", as they gather outside a courthouse holding her trial on charges of abortion in the capital Rabat on Sept. 9, 2019. (Credit: FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images)

Demonstrators hold up a sign showing the portrait of Hajar Raissouni, a Morrocan journalist of the daily newspaper Akhbar El-Youm, with a caption below in Arabic reading "My body, My freedom", as they gather outside a courthouse holding her trial on charges of abortion in the capital Rabat on Sept. 9, 2019. (Credit: FADEL SENNA/AFP/Getty Images)

A judge ruled that a Moroccan journalist remain in custody after she appeared Monday in a packed courtroom on charges that she had an illegal abortion after becoming pregnant while single.

The case has gained attention among journalists and rights groups.

The 28-year-old Hajar Raissouni has been jailed since Aug. 31. She denies having had an abortion and claims she was married to her Sudanese fiancé under Islamic law. The fiancé, a gynecologist and two others also were jailed.

They appeared in court as dozens of protesters gathered outside the courthouse in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, chanting “freedoms are in danger.”

The judge on Monday denied Raissouni’s temporary release request.

Abortions are illegal in Morocco as is premarital sex. Raissouni faces up to two years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Raissouni claims she was arrested outside a clinic she visited for an “urgent intervention,” not an abortion.

“She was not arrested in flagrante delicto. She didn’t confess to any crime. But this is the state of our country … We’ve reached the level where women’s bodies become the subject of public debate,” said one of Raissouni’s lawyers, Fatiha Chtatou.

Raissouni didn’t speak in court Monday, but was expected to when it convenes again over the case on Sept. 16.

She works for the Arabic-language paper Akhbar Al Yaoum, a major daily critical of the state. Family members maintain that her arrest was politically motivated and that she was targeted because she is a journalist who covers a grassroots opposition movement.

Amnesty International has called for Morocco to drop charges and release her.

“Hajar is a victim in all this,” her uncle Soulaimane Raissouni, a columnist at the paper where she works, said in an interview.

Police reportedly forced Raissouni into a medical exam at the time of her arrest.

“It is a rape of her body. It shows that the state controls the bodies and freedom of a woman,” said Ibtissam Lachgar, spokeswoman for the rights group Alternative Movement for Individual Freedoms.

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