In the past few weeks, an online campaign emerged in Morocco, calling for the abolishement of Article 490 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes consensual sexual relations outside marriage.
The movement “Moroccan Outlaws” launched the campaign on social networks to express support and solidarity with Hanae, known as “Moulat Al Khimar.”
The Court of First Instance in Tetouan, northern Morocco, sentenced Hanae to one month in prison on January 14. She was charged with extramarital sex and indecent assault after a former partner of hers shared a private video on the internet.
Karima Nadir, activist and spokesperson of the Moroccan Outlaws movement, called for abolishing laws that perpetuate violence against women and restrict Moroccans’ individual freedoms.
The supporters of the movement consider Article 490 of the penal code as “liberticidal.” However, some Moroccans believe it upholds Islamic values and prohibits the normalization of sex outside of wedlock. Reacting to what they perceive as an unwelcome defiance of Moroccan and Islamic values, the anti-campaign activists started a counter-mobilization under the hashtag #KEEP490.
Commenting on the debate, Asmae Lamrabet, a prominent Moroccan scholar and Islamic feminist, described article 490 as being “in contradiction with Muslim ethics and with ethics in general.”
Lamrabet acknowledged that sex outside of wedlock is indeed prohibited by Islam, but she condemned the use of the penal code to punish citizens by interfering in their privacy and their intimate lives.
Other celebrities, like Moroccan-French actress Sarah Perles, spoke out in support of the #STOP490 movement.
Perles said she has since received verbal threats and other slanderous comments from the anti-campaign activists and supporters for advocating “in favor of the Moroccan elite.”
In response, the actress took to Instagram to share her reasons for supporting what she described as a revolutionary movement for individual freedom and democratic citizenship. Those with privileges do not need her advocacy, she told her Instagram followers.
The elite and other privliged people have the means to “get two bedrooms in a hotel and get abortions at the best clinics,” Perles said.
She explained how Article 490 discriminates against those whose socio-economic situation forbids them from getting access to proper healthcare and sex education.
Outdated laws governing an evolving society
Bouchra Abdou, president of the Association Tahaddi for Equality and Citizenship, spoke to Morocco World News on the campaign and the case of Hanae.
Regarding Hanae’s case, Bouchra Abdou believes the crime is one of cyberbullying and the court’s decision to punish Hanae rather than the former partner who published the video demonstrates a flagrant gender-based discrimination.
“Women cannot keep getting arrested for something society has evolved to perceive as normal,” the activist told MWN.
The activist recalled that the video was recorded in 2015, “yet the prosecution happened this year.”
If there is indeed a crime in the “Moulat Al Khimar” case, Abdou argued, the person who made the video public is the real culprit.
Abdou said that unmarried couples are a common feature of social life in Morocco.
“I am not talking about those who live in fancy neighborhoods because even in the poorest neighborhoods in Casablanca, there are many couples living together without a legal marriage certificate,” she said.
Abdou argued that Morocco should now give people “freedom of choice to those who consent to relationships outside marriage.”
She added, “Many women come to our association after their husbands are dead, to tell us that they never had a marriage certificate and lived together for years. So should we sentence them to prison as well?”
As far as Bouchra Abdou is concerned, Article 490 is outdated and cannot be applied in a society that has significantly changed over the years. “Moroccans have evolved, the Moroccan society has evolved, it is time for the penal code to evolve as well.”