See also:
» 11.10.2010 - Sahrawis awake to government opposition
» 01.07.2010 - EU considers Western Sahara fisheries legal
» 17.05.2010 - PR company takes honour for Western Sahara "success"
» 13.05.2010 - Western Sahara "not part of EFTA-Morocco free trade"
» 14.04.2010 - Sahrawis fed up with UN chief
» 11.02.2010 - Morocco-Polisario revive talks
» 03.02.2010 - New talks on Western Sahara in US
» 29.01.2010 - Ease restrictions on Sahrawi - HRW

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Western Sahara
Politics | Human rights | Society

Western Sahara activists jailed for protests

afrol News, 21 July - A group of six Sahrawi political prisoners, who were arrested during the "Intifada" uprising in El Aaiun, were today presented to the court of appeal in the Moroccan-occupied capital of Western Sahara. While Sahrawi activists continue their protest marches in the occupied territory, they are met with increased Moroccan police violence and the arrest of prominent human rights defenders.

In El Aaiun, six Sahrawi activists today were taken to the Moroccan Court of Appeal, which was to review the sentences given to the prisoners in a closed trial on 23 June. The prison sentences of two to five years were confirmed by the court. The sentences were a result of the Sahrawis' participation of a popular uprising in the occupied territories during the last months, the so-called "Intifada", where activists demanded the respect for human rights and an end of the occupation.

The El Aaiun courtroom was firmly controlled by Moroccan security forces and access to the proceedings was strictly controlled. Many Sahrawis were denied access to the court. A French journalist, Agata André, from the newspaper 'Charle Hebdo', who had come to El Aaiun to attend the trial, was held detained in a separate room until the Sahrawi prisoners' trial was over. Also the families of the activists were banned from bringing food to their relatives as well as from seeing or phoning them.

Hundreds of Sahrawi activists, taking part in demonstrations in Western Sahara and in Morocco, have been arrested by Moroccan the police and army. It has been documented that the detained activists systematically have been severely tortured. The aim of the torture mainly seems to be to scare Sahrawis from taking to the street, as there is little need to force a confession out of the detainees.

According to local sources in the southern Moroccan city of Marrakech, a 20-year-old Sahrawi activist today died of the injuries sustained during torture. Hammo Rahali had been arrested during the June protests in El Aaiun and was taken to the infamous Black Jail of the city. He was taken from prison to Marrakech to receive medical treatment on 23 June, when he was "vomiting blood". The youngster today was declared a "martyr of the Intifada".

While the Moroccan court of El Aaiun confirmed the sentences of the Sahrawi activists, protest action continued all over the occupied territory. This week, there have been repeated protest marches gathering large crowds in the Sahrawi cities of El Aaiun and Dakhla and in the southern Moroccan town of Assa. Protesters demanded the freeing of political prisoners.

All the protest marches were violently dispersed by Moroccan security forces, local sources told afrol News. In Assa on Tuesday, a police car drove into the protesting crowd "causing a great number of gravely wounded and detained," according to a local source. Demonstrations in El Aaiun and Dakhla on the same day were also attacked by armed police and troops, causing a large number of wounded.

There are signs that the Moroccan occupying forces are currently stepping up the repression of the "Intifada", which has endured longer than authorities expected. For the first time this week, Western Sahara's most prominent human rights defenders have been arrested, causing a new wave of protests among Sahrawis.

On Monday, the famous activist Ali Salem Tamek from the town of Assa was surprisingly arrested as he returned to Western Sahara from Spain, where had been receiving medical treatment needed as a result from previous imprisonments. Mr Tamek earlier has been arrested several times and has managed to be set free after dramatic hunger strikes. He is the Sahrawi activist causing most unwanted international press reports surrounding the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara.

On Wednesday, three prominent Sahrawi human rights defenders were arrested in El Aaiun, including Noumria Brahim, a former disappeared and an ex-member of the dissolved Sahara branch of the Forum for Truth and Justice. The three activists were picked up from their house in El Aaiun by agents of different Moroccan security services. Their whereabouts are unknown and it is feared that they again are subjected to torture.

Also in the Moroccan city of Casablanca, security service agents on Wednesday entered the house of human rights activist and former political prisoner Mohamed Fadel Gaoudi, who was taken to an unknown location. Mr Gaoudi in 2001 had been forcedly deported to Casablanca after serving a prison term for having led a human rights group in the southern Moroccan city of Agadir.

The new wave of police violence, arrests and torture has caused strong-worded protests by the exiled government of Western Sahara and pro-Sahrawi activists worldwide. "The international community should not remain passive when Morocco is flagrantly violating the basic human rights in the occupied territories," the US Committee for the release of Sahrawi political prisoners demanded this week.

The Committee was in particular angered by the UN peacekeepers' "incapacity to protect the Sahrawi civilian population." The peacekeeping force is in Western Sahara since 1991 to oversee a never accomplished referendum over independence and has not done anything to protect Sahrawis demonstrating in favour of such a UN guaranteed referendum.

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