Moroccan police said they arrested 11 people Tuesday for “illegal abortions” in the kingdom, where prison sentences for terminating pregnancies remain a topic of fierce public debate.
National security said it had opened an investigation after “receiving complaints about a clinic performing illegal abortions” in the tourist city of Marrakesh.
The 77-year-old doctor who owned the clinic, four nurses and six clients including a 17-year-old girl were detained on charges including illegal abortion, statutory rape, adultery and complicity in those offences, it said in a statement.
Eight of the defendants were remanded in custody, while the minor was placed “under police control”.
In 2015, Morocco debated the “urgent need” to reform legislation in the face of hundreds of clandestine abortions performed daily, often under appalling conditions.
An official commission recommended that abortion be legalised in special circumstances, including for cases of rape or serious fetal abnormalities.
No law reform followed these recommendations, despite the lobbying of women’s rights supporters.
Abortion remains a criminal offence in Morocco, with penalties of one to five years in prison for those who perform the procedure and six months to a year in prison for women who undergo it.
NGOs say up to 150 children are abandoned daily in Morocco, a phenomenon to which unwanted pregnancies contribute.
Foreign tourists have vanished, the lockdown has paralysed economic life and local customers “have other priorities”, Ahmed Driouch said in his store cluttered with copper lamps, ceramics, daggers, jewelry, inlaid chests and carpets.
Business has been “two hundred percent affected by the virus”, he said, grimly forecasting it would take “at least two or three years” to return to normal.
Upstairs, employees dusted some 10,000 carpets in stock, one by one.
“We must clean everything even if, for now, nobody’s coming,” one of them said ruefully, vacuum cleaner in hand.
Minister of Tourism and Handicrafts Nadia Fettah has proposed ideas such as exhibition spaces in supermarkets to revive a sector that provides employment to two million people.
That includes about 230,000 traditional artisans.
The crafts industry represents around seven percent of GDP, with an export turnover last year of nearly one billion dirhams ($100 million).
Despite their role in the economy, artisans work without social security cover and with a limited distribution network, much of it through word of mouth, like elsewhere in North Africa.
– ‘Don’t know internet’ –
The 30 women who weave rugs for a small cooperative called “Creative Woman” in Sale have all lost their meagre incomes.
Weavers work eight hours a day for barely $100 a month “when the carpets are sold” and they “have nothing left because there has not been a single sale in three months”, explained Rachida Nabati.
The energetic woman in her 40s, who has been a weaver since the age of seven, has been forced to borrow from friends to supplement her modest earnings from a vegetable garden next to her shack.
In the cooperative, some have been bailed out by a state coronavirus emergency fund, while many others “can no longer pay their rent”.
“We have to sell on the internet but we don’t know how to do that,” said the mother who taught herself to read and write.
“A digital platform was launched for artisans a few years ago, but it doesn’t work,” master plasterer Mohamed Touel said.
In Tunisia, the National Office of Handicrafts has been working on an electronic platform for sales in Europe and has organised small exhibitions in hotels.
It also encourages artisans to launch Facebook pages or electronic sites.
But Sabiha, a potter in the Tunisian rural town of Sejnan whose works are on UNESCO’s list of “intangible cultural heritage”, said she cannot “even afford to recharge” her mobile phone.
More than 60 cases of coronavirus infections have been recorded in a jail in southern Morocco, mostly among staff, the country’s prisons service said.
The DGAPR agency, in a statement late Monday, said 60 workers and six inmates had tested positive for COVID-19 at the prison in the town of Ouarzazate after checks were carried out on all prisoners.
Nine staff and two inmates had previously tested positive at a jail in the southern city of Marrakesh and in Ksar Kebir, in the north of the kingdom, it said.
The prison service said that cases of contamination in Morocco’s prisons — which hold a total of 80,000 inmates — were under control because of “preventives measures” such as quarantines for workers with the respiratory disease.
At the start of April, more than 5,650 prisoners were released to reduce the risks of the spread of coronavirus, which has cost 144 lives in Morocco and contaminated more than 3,000 people.
Other Middle East and North African countries have also released prisoners, a measure UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has called for across the world as part of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Morocco, a country of 35 million, has closed its borders and imposed a lockdown until May 20, enforced by security forces, to stem the spread of the disease.
More than 4,300 people were arrested over the weekend in Morocco for breaching emergency rules in place to combat the novel coronavirus, according to official figures.
More than half of those detained were taken into police custody.
Since mid-March, authorities have arrested 28,701 people across the North African country, 15,545 of whom have been referred to court after being held in custody, according to the country’s national security force DGSN.
Penalties for violating measures in place to curb the spread of the COVID-19 disease include up to three months in jail and fines of up to 1,300 dirhams ($130), or both.
Morocco imposed a public health state of emergency on March 19, confining everyone to their homes except those with a permit to be out for work.
Last week, authorities made wearing face masks in public obligatory.
Police and security agents supported by soldiers in armoured cars have been deployed around the country, erecting road barriers and control points to enforce the measures.
Morocco has recorded 1,746 COVID-19 cases, with 120 deaths and 196 recoveries. Fewer than 7,000 tests have been carried out.
The largest number of arrests were made in the country’s economic centre of Casablanca and the capital Rabat, according to the DGSN.
Isolation measures have proved most challenging in densely populated, working-class neighbourhoods, according to local media reports.
Economic paralysis brought on by the pandemic has left millions of Moroccans in a precarious existence, with the bulk of the workforce made up of informal workers dependent on odd jobs and lacking access to social safety nets.
In the absence of a social database, authorities are working to identify needy families to distribute direct financial aid and food baskets.
Fifteen people went on trial in the Moroccan capital on Friday over the theft of dozens of luxury watches belonging to King Mohammed VI.
Defence lawyers said the suspects, arrested at the end of last year, were also charged in a Rabat court of forming “a criminal gang”.
The main suspect is a 46-year-old who worked as a cleaning woman in a royal household and has allegedly confessed to the robberies, while the others have denied involvement.
The woman, who is alleged to have stolen 36 watches, had many of them melted down and sold on to gold merchants.
The 14 others in court, all men, are gold traders or intermediaries who said they had no knowledge of the robberies.
Forbes magazine in 2014 classified the 56-year-old monarch as one of the world’s richest men with wealth estimated at more than $2.5 billion.
He has a taste for luxury cars, paintings and watches, and was shown in an Instagram post in September 2018 with a Patek Philippe diamond-encrusted watch in white gold with an estimated value of $1.2 million.
A Moroccan YouTuber was sentenced Thursday to four years in prison for “insulting the king” in a video broadcast on social networks, his lawyer said.
In a separate case, a Moroccan journalist and activist was charged and detained over a tweet that had criticised a court decision, his defence council told AFP.
The cases come after the Moroccan Human Rights Association had deplored in July an “escalation of violations of human rights and public and individual freedoms” in Morocco.
The YouTuber Mohamed Sekkaki, known as “Moul Kaskita”, was sentenced by a court in the western city of Settat to four years in prison, his lawyer Mohamed Ziane told AFP.
Sekkaki, whose videos usually exceed 100,000 views, was arrested in early December after posting a video in which he insulted Moroccans as “donkeys” and criticised King Mohammed VI, whose is considered “inviolable” under the constitution.
Ziani said his client would appeal the verdict.
The conviction of the YouTuber came less than a month after a Moroccan rapper was sentenced to a year in prison for “insulting a public official”.
Also on Thursday, journalist Omar Radi, 33, was detained in Casablanca and now faces trial, his lawyer Said Benhammani told AFP.
He is being prosecuted for a tweet published nine months ago criticising the judge in charge of the case against the leaders of the Hirak protest movement, he said.
Morocco’s criminal code punishes “insulting magistrates” with imprisonment of between one month and one year.
The group Reporters Without Borders in its latest annual press freedom index ranked Morocco 135th out of 180 countries.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Wednesday issued a royal pardon for journalist Hajar Raissouni, overturning a court sentence for an “illegal abortion” and sexual relations outside marriage, the justice ministry said.
The 28-year-old will walk free “in the coming hours”, while sentences handed down to her fiance, gynaecologist, anaesthetist and a medical assistant were also overturned, an official told AFP.