MOROCCO: Persecution in universities as academic freedom of Saharawis is strangled

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Ali_Salem_Tamek

Ali Salem Tamek 

Under international law, no one should be prevented from completing their education for reasons of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationaliy, religious belief or other deep-rooted convictions

The Moroccan government must guarantee that the right to education is respected for everyone. It must comply with its obligations regarding equality of opportunities for all people, regardless of their political opinions relating to Western Sahara and regardless of their ethnic background. In Morocco, the reality is that a person can be prevented from accessing university if they have beliefs, or they belong to a group or organisation that supports beliefs which differ from those approved by the state, particularly with regard to Western Sahara.

Any Western Sahara activists and students who defend the right to self-determination of the Saharawi people are considered ‘traitors’ by the Moroccan government and are expelled from Moroccan universities so as to prevent their messages of independence from spreading amongst the rest of the student body. Saharawi students are prevented from studying certain courses such as Medicine or Mathematics, and there are a limited number of Saharawi students who are allowed to access higher education. The Moroccan authorities have undertaken a relentless campaign of repression against Saharawi university students and lecturers, who are regularly harassed, detained or banned from studying or teaching due to their activism or political opinions regarding Western Sahara.

Ali Salem Tamek, 42, is an important example. Morocco has imprisoned him six times and he has undertaken 29 hunger strikes. He has also named his daughter Zaura which means ‘revolution’. Tamek was granted conditional release after
having spent 18 months imprisoned together with six others, for having visited the Tindouf refugee camps. Tamek, vice-president of the human rights organisation Codesa, defends the right to self-determination of the Saharan people.

He started a hunger strike on February 6 to protest against the Moroccan State’s denying his right to register in a Moroccan university to continue his studies. He considers that the denial of his right to access higher education
goes against all international conventions to which Morocco is supposed to adhere, as well as being against the Moroccan constitution. He believes that he has been experiencing severe reprisals against him since 2007 due to his political position in support of the self-determination of the Saharawi people.

The authorities have continued with a practice of singling out certain students, who are later permanently or temporarily prevented from accessing higher education because they go against the social and political opinions of the state.

The students’ protests in defence of their rights or in solidarity with their classmates who have been prevented from accessing higher education have been met with brutal repression, including assaults on campus and in student dorms. Students are arrested, beaten and detained. Many are detained without trial for hours or days, and in several cases students were subjected to torture or ill-treatment whilst being under police custody. Many are still serving prison sentences.

Adala UK urges the Moroccan government to lessen its control over academic institutions. Universities must be free to develop as pillars of independent thinking and freedom of expression.

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