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Urgent Action: Freedom of the Press in Western Sahara

Background: Freedom of the Press in Western Sahara

Sahrawi media channels work to provide the public with information, immersed in an adverse and unstable environment in which the Moroccan authorities disrespect the freedom to inform and be informed. The behaviour of the Moroccan security forces in Western Sahara towards journalists reveals the presence of a large gap between the reality and the Moroccan political narrative regarding the Freedom of the Press. The new 2011 Constitution upholds this freedom, but improvements are yet to be seen.

Adala UK, Media Team, Radio Maizirat, RASD TV, Boujdour Now,  and the Sahrawi Centre for Media and Communication, are the principal daily targets of the Moroccan police who do not respect the right of the freedom of the press or other fundamental human rights. Members of these Sahrawi organisations are consistently the victims of harrassment and persecution, arbitrary detention, physical and verbal abuse, torture and imprisonment, including sentences of absurd lengths following trials that are unjust and lack the minimum procedural guarantees.

Morocco, maintaining their totalitarian stance as the protector of ‘territorial unity’ of the country (the majority of the Western Saharan territory was annexed by Morocco through military occupation), represses, detains, imprisons and persecutes all forms of political and social action by any Sahrawis who attempt to claim their legitimate right to self-determination. This includes peaceful demonstrations to claim basic civil rights and political freedom; characteristics of a democratic system. Members of the Moroccan security forces use violence against the Sahrawis claiming that such measures are ‘necessary interventions to maintain citizen safety, protecting people from vandalism and the violence perpetrated by those who are pro-independence’. This repression is especially visible in the case of journalists, bloggers and people working for websites that support the Sahrawi cause. This is as much the case in Western Sahara as it is regarding Sahrawis outside of the country.

Since the protest camps of Gdeim Izik, the harassment of journalists  has been fierce and overwhelming. Many publications provide audiovisual recordings which show cases of journalists who complain of being harassed, intimidated, threatened, beaten and seriously injured and of having their equipment (cameras and video cameras, audio recorders and cars), confiscated or damaged by the Moroccan security services, without any compensation being offered. The most notable complaints made by reporters, photographers, camera operators etc. are those of Lafkir Laghdaf, Khalid Rouhi, Mohamed Khar, Mohamed Sahel, Mohamed Fadel Mamini, Mamina Hashimi, Mohamed Uld Mayara, Khatari Mrazig, Mohamed Ayash Dowaihi, Salha Boutangira, Mahfuda Lakgir, Ahmed Ettanji, Mahfoud Dahou and Hayat Jatri, among others.

The case of Mahmoud El-Haissan is an example: a reporter for RASD TV who was detained in El Aaiún on 4 June 2014, following the broadcast of a report he did on a march which occurred in the Sahrawi capital following the successful selection of Algeria in the World Cup in Brazil on 30 June. This report showed the excessive use of violence by the Moroccan police against the Sahrawis. Following his detention, for 48 hours there was no information about his whereabouts until it was announced that he was being taken to the Black Prison in el Aaiún. Accused of being part of an armed group and of playing a lead role in attacks on the security services, he was sentenced on 3 December 2014 to 18 months in prison. During his appeal, on 24 February 2015, he was provisionally released, awaiting a new trial on 24 March.

Imprisoning a journalist eliminates an essential witness and threatens the right of all to information. The example given is not the first case, nor will it be the last. We are therefore launching this campaign to gather signatures and write to the UN Secretary General asking that he include details of this systematic political repression of the freedom of the press in Western Sahara in his Annual Report to the Security Council, giving further evidence as to why  a mechanism for monitoring human rights in Western Sahara be incorporated in the new mandate for MINURSO.

We thank you for your collaboration.

Please help us by signing the below letter:

 bkm@un.org

Letter to UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon

Your excellency,

 

We hereby write to you to request that the following complaint be added to your Annual Report for the next Security Council meeting regarding the question of Western Sahara.

The use of the judicial system by the Moroccan authorities as a tool of repression against the Sahrawi population, and especially against those dedicated to journalism, continues to show grave violations of the Freedom of the Press by Morrocco in occupied Western Sahara.

Sahrawi media channels work to provide the public with information, immersed in an adverse and unstable environment in which the Moroccan authorities disrespect the freedom to inform and be informed. Adala UK, Media Team, Radio Maizirat, RASD TV, Boujdour now the Sahrawi Centre for Media and Communication and others, are the principal daily targets of the Moroccan police who do not respect the right of the freedom of the press or other fundamental human rights. Members of these Sahrawi organisations are consistently the victims of harrassment and persecution, arbitrary detention, physical and verbal abuse, torture and imprisonment, including sentences of absurd lengths following trials that are unjust and lack the minimum procedural guarantees.

Many publications have audiovisual recordings which show cases of such violations of the Freedom of the Press. One example is the case of Mahmoud El-Haissan, a reporter for RASD TV who was detained in El Aaiún on 4 June 2014 following the broadcast of a report he did on a march which occurred in the Sahrawi capital following the successful selection of Algeria  in the World Cup in Brazil on 30 June. This report showed the excessive use of violence by the Moroccan police against the Sahrawis. Following his detention, for 48 hours there was no information about his whereabouts. It was then announced that he was being taken to the Black Prison in El Aaiún. Accused of being part of an armed group and of playing a lead role in attacks on the security services, following five months in the Black Prison, he was sentenced on 3 December 2014 to 18 months in prison. There has been no investigation into his complaint of being subjected to torture; a complaint which was made on his behalf by his lawyers.

Therefore, we call upon you to tackle this situation of Moroccan political repression which systematically violates the Freedom of the Press in Western Sahara. We urge you to include this evidence in your Annual Report to the Security Council, which as well as recognising the complaint in its own right, also adds to the need to create a human rights monitoring mechanism in Western Sahara which should be incorporated into the new mandate of MINURSO.

We thank you for hearing our complaint and for your support.

Yours faithfully,


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