Morocco acquits gay teenage girls

Moroccan activist with '489' written on her shirt in reference to article 489

MARRAKESH - A judge in Morocco on Friday acquitted two teenage girls on trial for alleged homosexuality after they were reportedly caught kissing, one of their three lawyers said.
The 16-year-old and 17-year-old were arrested in October and detained for a week on charges of taking part in a "licentious or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex".
They were released on bail until their trial but on Friday a judge decided to "release them definitively into the custody of their parents", defence lawyer Rachid al-Ghorfi said.
"They were not sanctioned under Article 489" of the penal code which criminalises what it calls "sexual deviancy" between two people of the same gender, he added.
If found guilty, the girls could have been jailed for up to three years.
The girls -- who had been caught allegedly kissing and hugging on the roof of a house in Marrakesh -- denied being in a sexual relationship and said they were only friends.
Around 20 rights groups in a statement had denounced their arrest and also said the girls had been ill-treated from the time of their arrest and throughout the legal proceedings.
Morocco, a country of 35 million people torn between religious conservatism and openness to the West, has seen several controversial cases relating to homosexuality in recent years.
Last month, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on authorities to drop the charges against the girls.
Watchdogs including the Moroccan Association of Human Rights, which appointed a lawyer to defend the girls, have repeatedly called for Article 489 to be scrapped.