Moroccan teenager Khadija Okkarou, 17, is seen in a picture with her face blurred as she sits in the village of Oulad Ayad, in the Beni Mellal region.
Rabat: The lawyer of a 17-year-old Moroccan girl who told police she was gang-raped, forcibly tattooed and held against her will for two months says authorities have arrested 12 suspects. The case has sparked fresh public outcry over women’s rights and sexual abuse in the North African country.
The Moroccan government has declined to comment on the girl’s harrowing account, so far. Local police confirmed that there have been arrests in the case, but wouldn’t say how many or give other details.
Ebrahim Hashane, a member of a group of volunteer lawyers pressing her case, said an examining judge has ordered investigations into allegations of kidnapping, rape and abuse. He told AP that among the 15 suspects in the case, 12 are in custody and three are still on the run. The judge has scheduled a first hearing in the case for next week.
In an online video interview with Morocco’s Chouf TV posted last week, the girl alleged that her kidnappers “would assault me one by one,” burnt her and didn’t feed her or let her shower. She appeared to have scars from cigarette burns on her hands.
“They tattooed my arms, I don’t remember the day they tattooed me ‘cause when I woke up in the morning, I found that my arms were swollen,” said the girl, identified by local media only as Khadija. “It was terrible. I cried but no one cared. They have no compassion.”
The girl alleged that two men kidnapped her at knifepoint, when she was visiting her aunt during Ramadan, before selling her to other men in exchange for money or drugs. She said her captors gave her drugs that knocked her out for days at a time.
The case has dominated Moroccan news media for days, and more than 27,000 people have signed an online petition voicing indignation. Lawyers, activists and the girl’s parents are now raising funds to take her case further and for her medical treatment.
‘Victim of dysfunctional environment’
Abdelwahed Saadi, a social worker and neighbour of the girl’s family in the central Moroccan town of Oulad Ayad, said her father reported her missing but authorities did not launch an investigation.
“They are simple people. The father is sick and couldn’t do much to help free his daughter. Where we live is a crime and drug hotspot. No one can do much when houses are assaulted, people robbed in the light of day, drugs are used up and crime is committed,” Saadi said in a telephone interview. “She is first and foremost a victim of a dysfunctional environment. So are the attackers.”
The teenager said she attempted to flee from her abusers several times, but in vain. Eventually, she said her father managed to speak to one of the alleged kidnappers over phone, convincing him to free her by saying he wouldn’t file a police complaint. Once freed, however, the girl notified the authorities herself.
Hussain Harshi, president of the Moroccan Association for the Defence of Human Rights, cautioned that the girl’s account must be viewed with some scepticism.
In a phone interview, he alleged that the girl was known in the town for associating herself with drug users.
The mother of two of the alleged kidnappers told Sultana, a women’s news website, that the girl fled home with her parents’ knowledge and often came to her house to see her two sons, now in custody. The mother said they repeatedly chased the girl away.
Saadi, the social worker, said no circumstances could excuse the girl’s alleged rape. “This girl is a minor. She says she has been abused and raped. Her words must be taken seriously,” he said.
Violence against Moroccan women remains widespread and a largely taboo subject in a country that is seen as a haven of moderate Islam and relative prosperity in North Africa.
In February, the parliament passed a long-awaited law on combating violence against women, recognising some forms of abuse for the first time and criminalising some forms of domestic violence.