Freedom of the press is essential for a country to progress because it keeps the government in check. So, when there is a crackdown on journalists who are impartial and strive to report objectively then there is a cause for alarm.
Journalists who are critical of authorities are either jailed or killed. This incidence is not peculiar to just one country. Even the most democratic countries have their own way of gagging journalists that seem to bring the truth to bare regardless of the consequences.
Barely a year ago, Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post journalist critical of the Saudi Arabian government was assassinated in the Saudi consulate in Turkey on October 2, 2018. Critics believe because he was too vocal about the Saudi Crown prince and the Saudi Arabian involvement in the Yemeni crises that the government decided to shut him down by killing him.
Other journalists in Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria, Libya and Morocco have suffered similar ill fates for being critical of the governments of their various countries.
When the government has no probable cause to arrest a journalist, they tend to level unsubstantiated accusations against the journalist. Even if all evidence indicate they are innocent, they still somehow end up in jail.
Such cases draw the attention of the international human rights watch dogs like the United Nations and external investigations are launched into the matter. Though usually, the government buries them in so much paperwork that the case either becomes stale or people stop following altogether.
The most recent case that has gained international media coverage is that of Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni, who was arrested and jailed for having pre-marital sex and an abortion, BBC reports.
Raissouni, 28, was arrested on August 31 as she and her fiancé, Sudanese native, Rifaat al-Amin after visiting her gynaecologist in Rabat, the Moroccan capital.
Many are calling her case a witch hunt by the Moroccan government because she has been critical of their regime and also covered the demonstrations in the Rif region that led to hundreds of arrests.
The independent newspaper, Akhbar Al Yaoum reporter denies all charges against her and states to date that she had only gone to her doctor to seek treatment for a blood clot.
According to Aljazeera, regardless of her being vocal about her innocence and the doctor corroborating her story, Hajar and her fiancé were found guilty on Monday for having premarital sex and an abortion and both have been sentenced to a year in jail.
“We’re shocked by this verdict,” her lawyer, Abdelmoula El Marouri, told the Reuters news agency, saying that all the medical and legal proof should have led to an exoneration. He said he would petition against the judgement.
What makes this case interesting is the government tried to create the impression Raissouni was facing jail time for breaking the legal code, Article 409 of the kingdom.
The law punishes offenders for having sexual relations out of wedlock by handing judgments to the doctor, his assistant and nurse who were assisted with Raissouni’s operation.
Her Gynaecologist, Dr Mohammed Jamal Belkeziz was sentenced to two years in prison for performing the abortion, while his nurse and assistant were suspended from active duty.
However, the journalist being a very critical reporter of the government has said the case is a “political trial.”
Cherki Lahrech, her fellow journalist who witnessed the verdict says, “This judgment comes as a shock. The defense proved her innocence. I don’t understand what happened. It all poses many questions,” NY times reported.
Critics such as TrialWatch, a subset of the Clooney Foundation for Justice which monitored Raissouni’s trial, said that it bore “the hallmarks of an unfair and punitive process,” the Guardian reports.
It said: “The evidence did not sustain the charges, and the defence asserted that blood tests revealed that the levels of pregnancy hormone in the defendant’s blood were so low that it would have been impossible for her to be eight weeks pregnant as the police’s doctor claimed.”
Even if she had performed an abortion, in today’s era where individual’s rights are championed everywhere, she should have the right to choose to do to her body whatever she deems fit so long as it doesn’t infringe on any individual’s rights.
There is a rather large number of illegal abortions being performed in the country for fear of persecution. This rather endangers the lives of these women.
“Between 600 and 800 back-shop abortions occur each day in Morocco,” according to estimates by campaign groups, Aljazeera reports.
The way Hajar has been treated is “a blatant injustice, a flagrant violation of human rights, and a frontal attack on individual freedoms,” Ahmed Benchemisi, director of Human Rights voiced. In reference to the verdict, he describes it as a “black day for freedom in Morocco.”
Several campaign groups and activists are demonstrating on the streets of the North African country, Morocco.