An exclusive interview with Sonia Terrab by Human Rights Without Frontiers.
By Brianna Hertford, Human Rights Without Frontiers
HRWF (30.10.2019) – In a recent interview with HRWF, Sonia Terrab, one of the coordinators of the Moroccan Outlaws, shared the successes and hopes of the youth who have taken a courageous stand on contested articles in the Moroccan penal code criminalising pre-marital sex and abortions.
This group mobilised around the case of Hajar Raissouni, a journalist who was sentenced to one year imprisonment on 30 September 2019 for allegedly having pre-marital sex and an abortion. Her fiancée was also sentenced to one year and her physician was sentenced to two years for allegedly performing an abortion. These three individuals were charged under articles 454 and 490 of the Moroccan penal code.
Despite the welcome news that the King of Morocco pardoned all three on 16 October 2019, this movement was and continues to be focused on changing the laws themselves. The King’s pardoning is a very encouraging sign, since it indicates the level of influence the Moroccan Outlaws has already achieved.
This grassroots initiative was kickstarted by a manifesto published on 23 September 2019 that demanded the de-criminalisation of consensual non-marital sex and abortions. Additionally, the Moroccan Outlaws hosted a press conference highlighting these obsolete laws and sent a letter to the Royal Prosecutor to the Court of Cassation and President of the Public Ministry, Mohamed Abdennabaoui, three days before the King’s pardon. This publicity has led to a national debate on these issues in an unprecedented way in Morocco. These laws are now being discussed across all political groups and public circles, which is an immensely positive sign for the thousands of Moroccans rallying around this demand for change.
Many doubted that the manifesto would receive enough signatures to reach 490, which was the target symbolically chosen to reference article 490. However, not only did 490 courageous Moroccans sign, but the movement more than doubled within a few weeks and has continued to grow. As of 22 October 2019, there were 13,000 signatories. 70% of the movement’s followers on social media are Moroccan women between the ages of 18 and 25, which demonstrates that Moroccan youth form the core of this initiative.
This massive mobilisation is a reaction to the extreme extent these laws intrude upon individuals’ lives. For example, these articles of the penal code are not only used to serve political agendas, but also by families as a tool of revenge. If a young woman becomes pregnant before getting married, it is common for the man who impregnated her to be prosecuted. Sonia Terrab shared that 40-50% of prison inmates in Morocco are young men who have received sentences under these laws.
Furthermore, under the current penal code, the LGBTQ community in Morocco live in constant fear. By breaking the taboo on discussions around premarital sex and abortions, this movement has given hope to LGBTQ youth. If these laws were to be abolished, there would be space for conversations about other sexualities and gender identities without fear of legal punishments such as imprisonment. The fight for safety and equality for the LGBTQ community in Morocco would still take time, Sonia Terrab says, but the ability to speak out about their lived experiences is a critical first step.
There has been some opposition to the Moroccan Outlaws. They have received backlash from radical Islamists in Morocco who condemn the manifesto and call the female signatories “whores.” This is reminiscent of the Manifesto of the 343 in France that was published in 1971 during the fight to legalise abortion. Those brave women were also deemed “sluts” and personally attacked before the legislation was changed. Historically, this type of backlash is testament to the extent to which grassroots movements such as this one shake up the status quo.
From the start, the desire for legislative and societal change has been personal for every member of the Moroccan Outlaws. They are demanding the freedom to love and be loved without the stigma, shame or prosecution that currently exists within this oppressive legal framework. Sonia Terrab shared that the next goal for the movement is to petition the Moroccan Parliament about these laws, which, according to the Moroccan constitution, will require 5,000 signatures. Moving forward, this initiative will continue fighting for social justice and equality in Morocco.