The arrest of Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni has drawn attention to social issues in Morocco. While some people condemn the journalist’s arrest, others are more interested in the circumstances behind it.
Rabat – The case of Hajar Raissouni is believed to be the most topical this week with the journalist’s plight prompting sympathy from public figures, citizens, and journalists.
The journalist, who works for the Arabic-speaking newspaper Akhbar Al Yaoum, is facing charges of “illegal sexual relations resulting in pregnancy and illegal abortion.”
The journalist is “married” to a Sudanese university professor through a traditional marriage called in Morocco a “Fatiha marriage.”
Raissouni and her “husband” were waiting for documents from the Sudanese embassy to formalize the union. The couple was expected to celebrate their official wedding in two weeks.
Penal code 454 stipulates that sexual relations outside marriage are punishable by arrest and imprisonment for up to two years.
The publicization of Raissouni’s case has prompted a national debate on both the validity of Fatiha marriages, and the ethics of abortion.
Fatiha marriage controversy
Fatiha marriage, a religious marriage ceremony conducted without a written contract is still common in Morocco, especially in rural areas.
However, Morocco’s family code, or Moudawana, stipulates that a marriage contract is necessary for the legal recognition of a marriage.
Article 16 of the family code says that a “marriage contract is the accepted legal proof of marriage.”
The same article states that “if for reasons of force majeure the marriage contract was not officially registered in due time, the court may take into consideration all legal evidence and expertise.”
Last February the Ministry of Justice issued a statement in which it announced that Article 16 of the Family Code clarifies that a legal contract is the only document accepted to prove a marriage.
The ministry also stipulated that there is a limited transitional period for citizens who have not yet documented their marriage contract to avoid legal proceedings.
Why is a Fatiha marriage no longer a safe option? Morocco World News asked Mohamed Samir, fqih an expert in Islamic Law.
The situation called for the perspective of Islamic, academic, and legal experts as well as activists.
President of the national coordination of mosques Samir spoke with MWN on Thursday, September 5. He emphasized that marriage in fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] is valid if it meets several conditions. These conditions include consent, mahr or dowry, and witnesses.
The Islamic expert who chatted with MWN on Thursday, September 5, emphasized that marriage in fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence is valid if it meets several conditions, including consent, mahr or the mandatory payment, and witnesses.
“What I mean by consent is not the contract, but it is the fact that both parties should mutually accept the marriage,” Samir said.
The fqih, however, warned against the traditional marriage as it is against the law.
“Marriage should be documented. It is the right way to preserve rights. Think about children,” he said
Documenting the marriage give the wife legal security, meaning that she would have rights should the husband ever think of abandoning the marriage.
“What if the wife is pregnant. What if the husband wants to leave her? Even if there were witnesses, the wife and her family would face problems especially after the baby is born.”
“People should really think about the circumstances of such marriages. You should think about what is going to happen later before it happens. Get over traditions, any marriage should be documented,” he added.
The issue of Fatiha marriage is fully linked to both abortion and other social issues, including single mothers.
Bouchra Abdou, an activist, feminist, and president of Tahadi Center, told Morocco World News that Fatiha marriage is still a common issue in Morocco.
“Unfortunately, Morocco is still experiencing this phenomenon, which is categorically rejected,” she said.
Abdou added that it is necessary to raise awareness about this issue, emphasizing that married people should definitely document their marriage, especially if there are children.
“Even if there are witnesses to the Fatiha marriage, what if the woman gets pregnant?” she wondered, emphasizing that this would lead to other problems.
“In this case, there will be other issues, including the fact that there should be legal proof of paternity in order to get papers for the baby after he or she is born.”
Lawyer Hafida Maksaoui told MWN that the law is very firm regarding the Fatiha marriage.
Despite sharing concerns on the Fatiha marriage situation, Abdouu strongly condemns the campaign some internet users and local media launched against journalist Hajar Raissouni.
Both online commentators and media outlets have gone too far in condemning and publicizing Raissouni’s case, the feminist said.
“Raissouni is free to do whatever she wants. I call on people who attacked her to respect personal lives and the privacy of others,” she added.
Like Abdou, the Union of Moroccan Press also condemned the publicization and the defamation campaign launched against Raissouni. The union called on all journalists and national media to respect the ethics of journalism and respect her and her innocence until she is proven guilty.
The spokesperson of the Moroccan government, Mustapha El Khalfi, also warned local media and journalists not to publicize Raissouni’s case.
It is her body
Feminist Bouchra Abdou condemned the defamation campaign against Raissouni, especially the “heinous” comments the journalist received after reports of medical certificate indicating that she had frequently undergone abortions was circulated.
“It is a matter of personal choice, even if it is true. It is her right to do whatever she wants with herself,” Abdou said.
Abdou added that people should really respect the privacy of others. If it is not a forced relationship, it is no one’s business but the couple’ss.
The feminist also recalled that the fight to legalize abortion in Morocco continues.
“What if a victim is raped and pregnancy occurs? What if the victim does not want the baby or she cannot financially take care of the baby?” she asked.
She added that abortion is a better solution that having women throwing their babies in trash bins.
Article 453 in Morocco’s penal code stipulates that abortion is not punishable if it is practiced to preserve the mother’s physical health in case of a medical threat. In this case, abortion can be openly practiced with the spouse’s authorization. It is both punishable for the doctor and the patient.
Moroccan feminists and activists have been campaigning against the law, calling for the legalization of abortion.
In April, Moroccan Alternative Movement for Individual Freedoms (MALI) led a protest, chanting slogans such as “my body, my rules” to defend their view on abortion
“We consider that the repressive legislation that criminalizes abortion is a grave violation of women’s rights,” MALI stated in a press release following the protest.
The Moroccan government agreed in 2016 to change the law to also legalize abortion in cases of rape, incest, situations where the mother has serious mental health issues, or when the fetus has a serious illness or malformation. However, since then, the Parliament has taken no steps to change the law.