Rabat – Human Rights Watch has issued a statement in support of reforms to the penal code that Morocco’s National Human Rights Council (CNDH) proposed on October 28. The proposal includes repealing laws that criminalize a number of controversial actions, including having sex outside of marriage, having homosexual relations, and proselytizing or “shaking the faith” of Muslims as well as reforming the law on abortion.
The individual rights watchdog described CNDH’s memorandum as containing “groundbreaking proposals” to reform Morocco’s penal code.
HRW’s Middle East and North Africa communications director, Ahmed Benchemsi, argued “Morocco’s parliament should take the State out of people’s bedrooms and let them pursue their consensual private lives without fear of trials and prison time.”
He added that CNDH’s proposals would help “protect personal liberties” in Morocco.
The CNDH suggested that Parliament repeal articles of the penal code that criminalize certain sexual acts forbidden in Islam, such as homosexual relations, sex outside of marriage, and adultery.
In Morocco, abortion is illegal unless performed to save the mother’s health, but the CNDH memo calls for the definition to be widened to allow abortion if it would save the mother’s “physical, mental and social health.”
The CNDH is also calling for the government to amend or discard Article 220, which criminalizes religious proselytism and conversion from Islam to another religion. Moroccan Christians have faced charges of proselytizing due to the law, and the government has deported foreign Christians on the same charges.
All the reforms, the CNDH said, would lead to “a penal code that protects freedoms and takes into account the principles of legitimacy, necessity, and proportionality.”
Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani, a member of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), has not reacted positively to the memorandum. Departing from religious givens is a red line, El Othmani said on November 16.
El Othmani reminded the public that Islamic principles guide the Moroccan government. There is space for understanding or interpreting the principles within an innovative framework, however, he said.
Morocco’s Ulemma, a body of religious scholars that advises the government, put out a statement this week saying any changes to abortion law would follow “ijtihad,” the process by which amendments to Islamic law are made.