On 26th January, Moroccan security forces again restricted the right to peaceful protest of groups of Saharawi citizens across different cities of Western Sahara. These groups included unemployed Saharawi who, for months, have been fighting to protest peacefully and demanding the right to work.
These unemployed Saharawi are risking their lives to demand an end to social divisions and outrageous poverty, and have circulated their demands amongst Saharawi civil society. They have started an indefinite hunger strike in the city of El-Aaiun, the capital of Western Sahara. The Moroccan government has remained silent in the face of these protests. Instead, the government is isolating the Saharawis on hunger strike by banning all visits to them, including from family, and by preventing them from communicating with the press and human rights organisations. This punishment is an open and flagrant violation of their human rights.
Protests of unemployed Saharawi in different cities of Western Sahara during January also resulted in arrest of a group of young people. The minors among them, Ahmad Laghzal, and Ismail Ashkirid, were later released, however all detainees over the age of 18 were kept in prison: Jadna Lakrifa, Alraha Yunis, Said al-Bariki, and Ahmad al-Zawiya.
According to Ismail Ashkirid: “They came into the house violently and arrested us, they put us in police cars, and we were interrogated and tortured at the police station. We were forced to sign records of fabricated charges saying that we possessed knives and gas canisters.” Witnesses, and the families of those still in detention confirmed to Adala UK that the young people who were arrested were subjected to physical and psychological torture during the detention and interrogation.
These cases of arbitrary arrests, torture, and intimidation committed by different branches within the Moroccan security apparatus against Saharawi citizens, activists, and journalists are routine. Through violence and intimidation, the Moroccan authorities impose silence upon all Saharawi people, activists, and human rights defenders who demand self-determination in Western Sahara.
The Saharawi people are often subjected to torture and other mistreatment, particularly after the arrest of victims. Moroccan authorities also fail to conduct investigations. Courts continue to accept as evidence confessions of guilt made under torture or cruel and unusual punishment. The courts often ignore complaints made by lawyers on behalf of defendants against the authorities, as well as complaints about confessions made under torture. In some cases, courts have refused to allow defence lawyers to question prosecution witnesses or their calls for witnesses are denied. The authorities have been unable to achieve any progress on security sector reform, or to develop a strategy to combat impunity.