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Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon4 minutes read

Hajar Raissouni was sentenced on September 30, along with her Sudanese fiancé for having sexual relations out of wedlock

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Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon
Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni (R) flashes the victory sign upon leaving a prison in Sale near the capital Rabat on October 16, 2019. - Raissouni who was sentenced to one year in jail for an "illegal abortion" and sexual relations outside marriage walked free on today, hours after being granted a royal pardon. She was sentenced on September 30, along with her Sudanese fiance, a gynaecologist, anaesthetist and a medical assistant, whose convictions were also overturned, an official told AFP. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni who was sentenced to one year in jail for an “illegal abortion” and sexual relations outside marriage walked free on Wednesday, shortly after being granted a royal pardon.

In a case that had provoked a storm of protests from rights groups, the justice ministry said the 28-year-old woman was released on a pardon issued by King Mohammed VI.

Rassiouni was sentenced on September 30, along with her Sudanese fiancé, a gynaecologist, anaesthetist and a medical assistant, whose convictions were also overturned, an official told reporters.

The journalist made a victory sign to the waiting media as they emerged from El-Arjat prison near Rabat, but she made no statement before joining her family and friends.

The ministry said the monarch wanted to help “preserve the future of the couple, who wanted to establish a family in line with our religious and legal precepts, despite the error they made”.

The amnesty was decided on the grounds of “compassion”, it said.

A government source told reporters the ruling was made “without entering into the debate that is sovereign to Moroccan citizens on the evolution of their society and in which, regrettably, certain foreigners, intellectuals, media and NGOs invited themselves to take part”.

The journalist at the Akhbar Al-Yaoum newspaper, which has a history of run-ins with the authorities, denounced the affair as a “political trial”, saying she had been questioned by police about her family and her writing.

Youne Maskine, a director of Akhbar Al-Yaoum, took to Twitter to hail “finally a wise decision”. 

READ: Moroccan journalist says police forced her to take medical test

Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon
Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni (L) is greeted by her boyfriend Rifaat Al Amine upon leaving a prison in Sale, near the capital Rabat, on October 16, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Raissouni was arrested on August 31 as she left a clinic in Rabat. In court, she denied having had an abortion, saying she had been treated for internal bleeding — testimony backed up by her gynaecologist.

She was sentenced under Article 490 of the Muslim-majority kingdom’s legal code.

That article punishes sexual relations out of wedlock, while the law also forbids all abortions unless the mother’s life is in danger.

‘Obsolete’ ban –

In a case that sparked widespread debate on personal and media freedoms in Morocco, her gynaecologist, who spoke up in her defence, was given two years and her fiancé one year in prison.

The anaesthetist was handed a one-year suspended sentence and the medical assistant eight months, also suspended.

Morocco frees journalist jailed for abortion after royal pardon
Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni (L) is greeted by her mother upon leaving a prison in Sale near the capital Rabat on October 16, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Rights groups were quick to condemn the verdicts, which Amnesty International described as a “devastating blow for women’s rights” in the country. 

Ahmed Benchemsi, the regional director for Human Rights Watch, described the sentencing of Raissouni and her fiancé as a “black day for freedom in Morocco”.

The verdicts were “a blatant injustice, a flagrant violation of human rights, and a frontal attack on individual freedoms,” he wrote on Twitter.

The prosecution insisted she had been seen by a medic and showed signs of pregnancy and of having undergone a “late voluntary abortion”.

It had said her detention had “nothing to do with her profession as a journalist”.

READ: Moroccan journalist arrested over “Illegal abortion”

Between 600 and 800 back-shop abortions occur each day in Morocco, according to estimates by campaign groups.

In a manifesto published on September 23 by Moroccan media outlets, hundreds of women declared themselves “outlaws” by claiming to have already violated the “obsolete” laws of their country on abortion and other social norms.

In the early 1970s, in a similar text, French women calling themselves the “343 sluts” famously declared they had had an abortion when it was still illegal.

Last year, Morocco tried thousands of people for sex out of wedlock, 170 people for being gay and 73 for pregnancy terminations.

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North Africa

Libyan GNA government suspends talks with Haftar forces after Tripoli port attack

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A Libyan oil worker walks infront of smoke rising from an oil facility in northern Libya's Ras Lanouf region on January 23, 2016, after it was set ablaze ealier in the week following fresh attacks launched by Islamic State (IS) group jihadists to seize key port terminals. - Firefighters battled the blaze at the oil facility for a third day, an official said, after an assault by jihadists aiming to seize export terminals. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP)

Libya’s internationally recognized government on Tuesday suspended talks hosted by the United Nations to halt warfare over the capital after eastern forces shelled Tripoli’s port, killing three people and almost hitting a highly explosive gas tanker.

The U.N. has been hosting in Geneva ceasefire talks between officers from the Tripoli government and the eastern-based Libya National Army (LNA), led by commander Khalifa Haftar. The two factions have been trying to take the capital in a near year-long campaign, displacing at least 150,000 people.

The talks had been agreed by foreign powers backing rival parties at a summit in Germany a month ago, an event that has not halted a war cutting oil exports by 1 million barrels a day, a Reuters report said.

Western countries have largely watched passively as Libya fell apart since helping remove Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, opening the door for regional powers such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Turkey to back rival camps fighting for control.

The LNA on Tuesday shelled Tripoli port, saying first it had attacked a Turkish vessel bringing weapons but saying later it had hit an arms depot. Three civilians were killed and five wounded, the Tripoli forces said.

The attack came just as the U.S. ambassador Richard Norland was visiting Haftar in the first trip of a U.S. envoy to eastern Libya since the killing of the U.S. ambassador in a raid blamed on an Islamist militia in 2012.

In response to the LNA attack, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord said in a statement it suspended its participation in ceasefire talks “until firm responses are taken against the attacker, and we will respond firmly to the attack in appropriate timing.”

 “Negotiations don’t mean anything without permanent ceasefire guarantees returning the displaced people and the security of the capital and the other cities,” it added.

Tripoli port is a major gateway for food, fuel, wheat and other imports for the capital, which is home to the internationally recognized government. Heavy artillery fire could be heard at night.

PORT STRIKE

State oil firm NOC said it had urgently evacuated all fuel tankers from the port after a missile struck meters away “from a highly explosive liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) tanker discharging in the port”.

“The city does not have operational fuel storage facilities … the consequences will be immediate; hospitals, schools, power stations and other vital services will be disrupted,” NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said in a statement.

Since January, Turkey has sent several ships carrying arms and heavy trucks to Tripoli and Misrata, another western port allied to the Tripoli government, diplomats say. It has also sent fighters from Syria’s civil war to defend Tripoli.

The LNA is allied to a parallel government in eastern Libya supported by the UAE, Egypt, Jordan and Russian mercenaries. France has also given some support.

Eastern ports and airports are out of range of the Tripoli forces and its Turkish drones.

Tuesday’s attack on the port unfolded as officers from the Tripoli forces and the LNA held a second round of indirect talks in Geneva to establish a permanent ceasefire. Both sides refused again to sit in the same room, U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame said.

Salame added that he had received conditions from tribesmen allied to eastern forces to lift a blockade of eastern oil export ports, but said these were quite general and would have to be fleshed out in more U.N.-led talks in Geneva next week.

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Business News

Maroc Telecom reports $620 million profit

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Maroc Telecom, Morocco’s largest telecoms operator, has reported an adjusted profit of $620 million in 2019.


The result was achieved on the back of higher mobile data activity in Morocco and in African subsidiaries, according to the company.


The Telecoms total revenue grew by 1.3% to $3.76 billion.
The company says its customer base rose from 11.1% to 67.5 million citing a growth in demand for its mobile broadband and landlines in Morocco.


Maroc Telecom also says it will pay a dividend of 5.54 dirhams per share, totalling 4.9 billion dirhams.
Maroc Telecom, which is listed on the Casablanca Stock Exchange and Euronext Paris, is 53% controlled by the UAE’s Etisalat, with the Moroccan state owning 22%.


It operates subsidiaries in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Togo and the Central African Republic.

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North Africa

Tunisian PM submits list of cabinet nominees, awaits parliamentary approval

PM-designate Fakhfakh submitted a list of cabinet nominees to President Kais Saied, with Nizar Yaich as finance minister, Nourredine Erray as foreign minister and Imed Hazgui as defence minister.

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Tunisian President Kais Saied in parliament./AFP


Tunisian prime minister-designate, Elyes Fakhfakh on Saturday proposed the line-up of a new government and then said negotiations would continue after the Ennahda party, the biggest in parliament, rejected it with fears of a new election beckoning.

The proposed government must be approved by the deeply fragmented parliament in two weeks or there will be a new election, a Reuters report said.

Fakhfakh submitted a list of cabinet nominees to President Kais Saied, with Nizar Yaich as finance minister, Nourredine Erray as foreign minister and Imed Hazgui as defence minister.

But with the largest parties either opposed to his coalition or unenthusiastic about its composition, Fakhfakh may struggle to gain the strong parliamentary majority needed for any significant political programme.

The moderate Islamist Ennahda party, with 53 seats, said it would only join a unity government that brings together parties from across Tunisia’s political spectrum.

“This decision will put the country in a difficult situation,” Fakhfakh said in speech.

Heart of Tunisia, the second biggest party with 38 seats, also said it would not back the government after Fakhfakh excluded it from the coalition.

Tunisia faces a series of long-term economic challenges which threaten to undermine public trust in the young democracy, and which demand political decisions that could be unpopular.

Since the 2011 revolution, unemployment has been high and growth low, while the government has sunk further into debt with a series of big budget deficits that foreign lenders demand it bring under control.

Elections in September and October returned Saied, a political independent, as president, and a parliament in which Ennahda held fewer than a quarter of the seats.

Ennahda’s nominee for prime minister, Habib Jemli, proposed a coalition government that was rejected by parliament in a confidence vote last month, giving Saied the chance to ask his own candidate, Fakhfakh, to form a cabinet.

If Fakhfakh’s proposal is also rejected by parliament next week, a new parliamentary election must follow within three months.

Fakhfakh had already promised to name a government that would draw only from parties he considered aligned with the goals of the revolution and committed to rooting out corruption.

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