Moroccan police have arrested 12 men near the town of Beni Mellal for the alleged abduction, torture and rape of a teenager.
In an interview last week the girl, named Khadija, recounted her ordeal, sparking outrage throughout the North African country, with campaigns launched to get authorities to take more action against gender-based violence, and to bring her captors to justice.
An investigation has now been launched into the 17-year-old's two-month captivity ordeal.
On Tuesday, several Moroccan and francophone outlets published a letter of support written by novelist and filmmaker Abdellah Taia and signed by local writers, artists, doctors and community workers. In it, Mr Taia criticised Moroccan society’s treatment of women and lamented that Khadija’s case would soon be forgotten.
“Unfortunately, this is a case that runs the risk of being forgotten next week, or perhaps next month,” wrote Mr Taia. “We will move on to something else … and, as always, women are the ones who will pay the high price of a dysfunctional society that still refuses grow up.”
During her interview with the network Chouf TV, Khadija, whose identity was concealed by a black scarf, showed injuries inflicted by her kidnappers. She revealed scars, bruises and cigarette burns on her body and limbs, as well as crudely-drawn tattoos of Nazi symbols, names, drawings and expletives.
Last weekend, Tunisian tattoo artist, Fawez Zahmoul, announced that he had spoken to Khadija’s father to assist in bringing the teen to Tunisia to remove the tattoos.
On social networks, a campaign in support of Khadija was promoted through the hashtag #JusticePourKhadija.
The illustration of a bruised, tattooed anonymous woman has been widely shared. The image is the work of Casablanca-based artist Nada Hriouil, who said that she wanted to support Khadija’s case, as well as raise awareness about rape and harassment.
“She's almost the same age as me, and she could be any other girl from around the world,” said Ms Hriouil. “Her story had a big impact on me … She must be a really strong young woman and I'm thankful that she made it back to her house. I will not tolerate another rape in my country.”
Meanwhile a petition asking King Mohammed VI and the authorities to give Khadija justice and to help her family with financial costs has gathered over 28,000 signatures.
The petition aims to “gather all actors of the civil society, organisations and associations, so we can voice our indignation and outrage for what happened to this young girl, and also to give her emotional support to rebuild her life and financial support to remove the tattoos”.
Khadija claims to have been abducted from in front of her aunt’s home. "I tried to escape several times, but I was caught and beaten,” she said. “They tortured me, they did not give me food or drink, and they did not even allow me to take a shower."
The accused – aged between the ages of 18 and 27 – have denied any wrongdoing, with the mother of two suspects disputing Khadija’s version of events.
“She has a bad reputation,” said the mother in an interview with Chouf TV, “she drinks [alcohol], she smokes.”.
Khadija was accused of inflicting the cigarette burns on herself and of choosing to be tattooed.
Other defenders of the accused have criticised Khadija’s father, claiming that he should have filed a report with the police when she went missing.
The main suspect in the case faces charges of rape, torture, kidnapping, making death threats and forming a gang.
In her interview, Khadija said: "I will never forgive them, they destroyed me. I want justice to be done and [for them] to pay for what they have done to me.”
The first hearing in the case is due to take place on September 6 at Beni Mellal court.