Two Moroccan women who walked through a market wearing dresses are facing charges of “gross indecency”, a rights group and media reported Thursday, sparking an outcry in the kingdom. The women were arrested on June 16 as they strolled through the open-air market in Inezgane, a suburb of the southern city of Agadir, on their way to work, said Fouzia Assouli, head of women’s rights organisation LDDF.
Security forces intervened, wresting the women away from the angry crowd and placing them inside a police car before driving them to a police station where they were charged with gross indecency, it added.
Assouli told newsmen that a trial date has been set for July 6. Rights organisations have denounced the upcoming trial and protests are to be held later this week in Agadir and in Morocco’s commercial capital Casablanca in support of the two women. “They were dressed in a very respectable fashion,” said Bouchra Chetouani, a member of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH).
In the police report, the women were said to have been wearing clothes that were “too tight”. Article 483 of Morocco’s penal code states that anyone found guilty of committing an act of “public obscenity” such as “gross indecency” can be jailed for between a month and two years.
Supporters of the two women have launched a petition online dubbed “Wearing a dress is not a crime”. It had been signed by more than 8,000 supporters as of Thursday afternoon. “This is an unprecedented case for our region,” said Aziz Sellami, the AMDH representative in Agadir, one of Morocco’s top tourist destination which is famous for its white sandy beaches.
Assouli said the arrests of the women comes amid growing calls for “morality” to be respected in conservative Morocco, which has been frequently criticised by international groups for rights abuses. Earlier this month, pop star Jennifer Lopez sparked anger among conservatives in Morocco — and triggered much debate — for being, according to media, “scantily” dressed during a concert in Rabat that was broadcast on public television.