Published: 2023-04-13 20:50
Last Updated: 2023-09-27 15:23
Three defendants accused of repeatedly raping a Moroccan girl pleaded not guilty Thursday as the case went to appeal, after their light sentences shocked the country.
The victim was only 11 when she was "repeatedly raped" and became pregnant, according to rights groups in the North African kingdom.
The legal team of the girl, who is now 12, had appealed after a lower court sentenced one of her three alleged attackers to two years in prison, and the others to 18 months each.
All three could have faced up to 30 years behind bars.
The appeals court will hear testimonies from the victim and a witness, also a minor, in private after the prosecution requested it, citing child protection concerns.
The Rabat appeals court was packed for Thursday's hearing.
The three men, aged between 25 and 37, denied all charges, an AFP journalist said.
The victim, looking frail and silent, was accompanied by her grandmother and father.
The three defendants, who face charges of "misappropriation of a minor" and "indecent assault on a minor with violence", hung their heads.
The prosecution requested that "rape" be added to the charges, a request rejected by the judge.
One of the men was confronted with a DNA test proving that he is the father of the child born to the girl.
Asked how this happened, he repeatedly said, "I don't know".
The case has caused an uproar in the North African country, and a petition condemning the sentences, which were issued on March 20, has amassed tens of thousands of signatures.
The girl, from a village near Rabat, was raped repeatedly over a period of months when she was just 11, the Jossour Forum of Moroccan Women said in a statement last month.
She was impregnated by one of her attackers, news website Medias24 has reported.
Amina Khalid, head of INSAF, a women's rights group which has followed the girl's case, said she "is starting to smile a little but she is still in shock".
INSAF has helped the girl go to school for the first time.