CAIRO — A Moroccan court has sentenced a journalist and her fiance to jail for having premarital sex and an alleged abortion, a punishment that human rights activists say is a blow to women’s rights and part of a crackdown on independent reporting.

In sentencing Hajar Raissouni to one year in prison on Monday, a court in the Moroccan capital, Rabat, convicted her of having an “illegal abortion and sexual relations outside of marriage.” The court also convicted her Sudanese fiance, Rifaat al-Amin, sentencing him to a year in prison for helping Raissouni get the alleged abortion. 

The doctor who allegedly performed the operation received two years in prison and a ban on practicing medicine for two years. Two other members of his medical staff received a one-year sentence and an eight-month sentence respectively. They were all arrested in late August at a gynecologist’s clinic in Rabat.

 “Today’s verdict is a devastating blow for women’s rights in Morocco,” Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said in a statement. “Under international law, women have a right to make their own decisions about their sexual and reproductive lives. Criminalizing abortion is a form of discrimination against women.”

 The 28-year-old journalist and her defense lawyers denied that she had an abortion and said in a Sept. 4 letter that the charges were fabricated. She had gone to the doctor to receive treatment for internal bleeding, they said. Her arrest has triggered public protests by activists.

Raissouni and human rights groups said her arrest was politically motivated. As a journalist for the independent Akhbar al-Yaoum newspaper, Raissouni wrote about anti-government protests in northern Morocco. The paper is one of the few remaining dailies that report critically on the government. 

In the Sept. 4 letter, published in her newspaper, Raissouni said Moroccan authorities interrogated her about her political writings as well as her uncle, who is a leading Islamic scholar and former president of one of the nation’s largest Muslim movements. Her cousin heads the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, the nation’s largest independent human rights organizations.

In court, the government prosecutor denied that the case was motivated by Raissouni’s critical reporting, adding that the clinic she visited was under surveillance for suspicion of performing illegal abortions. Her defense lawyer, Abdelmoula El Marouri, told Reuters that Raissouni and Amin were “shocked by the verdict” and that all the evidence should have led to an acquittal. They will appeal the verdict, he said.

 “Hajar Raissouni is being charged for alleged private behavior that shouldn’t be criminalized in the first place,” Ahmed Benchemsi, regional communications director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Morocco’s arrest, prosecution and brutal violation of Hajar Raissouni’s private life illustrate the country’s lack of respect of individual freedoms, and apparently the selective enforcement of unjust laws to punish critical journalism and activism.”