HRW Calls for Decriminalization of Adultery in Morocco

Rabat – In the wake of the Hicham Mansouri case, international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Morocco to decriminalize adultery. In a communiqué published on Tuesday, the human rights advocacy group criticized the Moroccan criminal justice system and the law on adultery.This comes after the confirmation of a ten-month prison sentence for Hicham Mansouri, who works for an organization supporting investigative journalism, and his co-defendant, a 30 year-old woman, for adultery. The court also ordered the defendants to pay a total of 40,000 dirhams (US $4,140) in damages to the woman’s husband. According to HRW, “the court had discounted substantial evidence that emerged during the trial.” Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director, said, “the conviction of Mansouri and his co-defendant is a depressing example of so much that is wrong with Morocco’s criminal justice system…it also highlights Morocco’s problematic criminalization of adultery.”“Morocco should decriminalize adultery, a step that would be consistent with its obligation to protect the right to privacy in its 2011 constitution and international human rights law,” HRW said in the communiqué, adding that Morocco “should also ensure the right of defendants to fair trials so that courts don’t inherently give more weight to police accounts of events than to exculpatory evidence presented by the defendants.”Article 491 of Morocco’s penal code calls for a prison term of between one and two years for adultery. It states that adultery can be prosecuted only if the spouse of one of the parties files a complaint. In Mansouri’s case, HRW claims that the woman’s husband filed a complaint to trigger the prosecution, but only after the police had informed him that they had caught his wife in the act.HRW claimed that the police’s handling of the Mansouri case suggests that “motives other than the neutral enforcement of adultery laws may have driven his arrest and prosecution.” Mansouri works for the Moroccan Association for Investigative Journalism, a small group whose president, Professor Maati Monjib, has stirred controversy by directly criticizing the Mekhzen.According to the group, “Mansouri is not the only Moroccan with a political profile recently arrested for alleged adultery.”  El-Mostafa Erriq, a leading member of the Islamist opposition Justice and Spirituality (Adl wa’l Ihsan) movement, and a woman he was visiting were arrested on March 13 and were held in police custody for three days. However, the police released them when Erriq’s wife declined to file a complaint.The NGO claimed  that in both cases, the police did not arrest the accused on the basis of a complaint filed by a spouse. Instead, the police contended that they caught the couple in the act and invited the spouse to file a complaint.“Both cases also highlight the intrusive nature of police investigations into alleged adultery offences. The criminalization of consensual sexual relationships between adults, regardless of their marital status, violates the right to privacy,” Human Rights Watch said.