Morocco: Horrendous prison conditions and abuse put Sahrawi prisoners’ lives at risk 

Sahrawi prisoners in Moroccan prisons continue to face a daily struggle for survival, living in overcrowded cells without ventilation where temperatures can rise to 44 ºC during the summer months. Prisoners are regularly abused, both mentally and physically, by prison guards, in some cases leading to death. Such incidences are never investigated which creates a climate of complete impunity.
On 13 January, the political prisoners Ali Saadouni, Noordin Aargoubi and Khallihenna ElFak, who are held in the ‘black prison’ in El Aiun, entered into a hunger strike and were put in isolation units. All their belongings were taken away from them and they remain incommunicado. Two days earlier they had denounced the bad conditions under which they were held and the abuse they suffered. The three prisoners had also explained that the only reason for their arrests had been their political struggle for the self-determination of Western Sahara.

Sahrawi student Abdlmoula Al Hafidi (no. 4780) is another of many Sahrawi prisoners who has spent months in arbitrary detention without trial. He has been held under inhumane conditions in Oudaya prison in Marrakesh, in Southern Morocco, along with 13 another Sahrawi students, since 16 April 2016. All of them are political prisoners who were only arrested for expressing their political opinion and for organising events and peaceful protest at their university. On 6 January 2017, Abdlmoula El Hafidi was put in an isolation unit for a period of 20 days for having accused prison officials of torturing him. As a result, he went on hunger strike the same day. Other prisoners immediately started fasting in solidarity with him.

None of the students have been charged with a crime or been tried. On 5 January 2017, their trial was postponed for the 6th time to 14 February. The group had already been on hunger strike several times previously to demand a trial and to protest against the bad conditions under which they are being held.

 

One of the 14 students told Adala UK: ‘The cells are very hot, especially in June and September. At night they are very dark and there is not much ventilation. The smell is terrible because prisoners only had a very small bathroom in a cell of 6×7 metres, where up to 30 prisoners are held. Clean drinking water is not available, water pipes are ancient, and the unhygienic conditions are lead to the spread of diseases. Prisoners also complained about the bad quality and insufficient quantities of food. To make matter worse, they are not always given the food their families and friends bring for them.
Fatima, member of Adala UK, comments: ‘The majority of prisoners and ex-prisoners we visited for our 2015 report were extremely weak, many had skin diseases or kidney diseases. Some of the students imprisoned in Marrakesh suffer from the same diseases now.’

 

The Moroccan authorities should initiate investigations into a series of human rights abuses against Sahrawi prisoners, many of which have previously been highlighted in Adala UK’s report published in 2015. All political prisoners should be released immediately. Their arrests and alleged torture should be impartially investigated and those responsible brought to justice.

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