By Sidi Ahmed Abdala
Independent journalism in the Occupied Territories of Western Sahara, the country with the worst freedom of press record in the region, has become one of the most dangerous professions. The Moroccan occupying forces maintain a monopoly on TV, radio, press and the internet. Individuals who want to express their own version of what is happening in Western Sahara are subject to threats, arbitrary arrests and torture. The most recent incident has caught the attention of human rights organisations, including Adala UK and Reporters without Borders, who have echoed the reports of abuses committed by the Moroccan state and called on the international community to act.
Mahmoud Alhaisan, correspondent for RASD TV, a local TV station in Western Sahara, received threats from the police, which became a reality when he was arrested without warning by plain clothes police officers in the streets of El Aiun whilst on his way home. A few days ealier Mahmoud Alhaisan had produced a report about the excessive use of force by Moroccan police against Saharawi demonstrators. He is now accused of various crimes.
The arbitrary detention and threats that Mahmoud Alhaisan suffered are a clear example of the Moroccan state’s repressive regime against Saharawi journalists working in the Occupied Territories.
On another occasion, on 6th August 2014, Morocco expelled three Basque journalists – Chie Ruiz Dearcote, Mailin Sais Dearcote and Saul Jimenez Perez – who were conducting an observation visit to Smara. According to Adala UK members based in Smara, the three journalists were on their way from Smara to El Aiun when they were intercepted by Moroccan police and expelled to the Moroccan city of Agadir. During their stay in Smara, the journalists had confirmed the rejection of Moroccan rule by the Saharawi population. They had also interviewed a member of Adala UK and other human rights activists about the situation of the city and the repressive methods employed by the Moroccan occupation against peaceful demonstrators who are demanding the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination.
Freedom of expression is guaranteed for citizens whenever this is in agreement with the Moroccan state’s policies in Western Sahara.This is why private ownership of mass media outlets prohibited. According to an independent blogger who wanted to remain anonymous, ‘The press, radio, TV and other mass media are owned by the Moroccan regime and can under no circumstances be privately owned, which ensures their exclusive use to promote the interests of the Moroccan state.’
‘The restrictions of the Moroccan state imposed on Mass media in Western Sahara are clearly designed to prevent journalists from exercising their right to freedom of expression, including their ability to research, receive and provide information about human rights abuses committed by the Moroccan state in Western Sahara.’
‘Instead of being recognized for exercising their fundamental role of providing civil society with information, journalists and other individuals who dare report on the reality of life in the Occupied Territories and on human rights violations, are discredited.’
Adala UK demands urgent action on the issue of freedom of press and denounces the Moroccan government’s for only allowing journalists in favour of the regime’s official line to freely practice their profession whilst independent or foreign journalists are often denied access to the Occupied Territories and Saharawi journalists are subject to threats and arbitrary arrests.