Morocco: persecution campaign against Saharawi activists coincides with the King’s visit to occupied Western Sahara
The Moroccan authorities must take make measures to end the campaign of intimidation, harassment and kidnapping against activists and human rights defenders in the Occupied Territories of Western Sahara.
On the night of 19 October, activists, members of the public and representatives of a human rights organisation began a graffiti writing campaign in the streets of the occupied capital, El Aaiún, writing “no to the visit by the king of the Moroccan occupation”, “Mohammed VI, King of Morocco: you are not welcome in the Occupied Territories of Western Sahara”.
On the same day, a demonstration by the Saharawi people against the occupation included placards with the words: “freedom to all political prisoners” and “there is no other alternative but self-determination”. Moroccan authorities, uniformed and in plain clothes, forcibly broke up the demonstration and pursued activists and members of NGOs. Among them was Salima, an Adala UK member who was humiliated and maltreated in the middle of the street by a group of police officers, who confiscated her belongings and and then left in a car belonging to the Moroccan authorities.
“The international community can see every day the ways in which Saharawi human rights are violated; how they discriminate against us; how men, women and children are maltreated and punched in the street by the authorities; how people are imprisoned for nothing more than their ideas. All I ask the UN is this: ‘do you like what you see? Do you think you could help change it?” said Salima.
On 24 October, the Moroccan police arrived at the family home of Mrabih Saadi in El Aaiún. He is an activist and member of a Saharawi NGO. Without giving any explanation of presenting an arrest warrant “the officers confiscated out mobiles, then I was arrested and spent several hours in custody where I was subjected to maltreatment including beatings by police officers. The reason given was for my having written graffiti which rejected the visit by the King to the Occupied Territories. I was later released without charge”.
On 26 October, Ali Saadoni, member of the group ‘Rejection of the Nationality of Occupation’ was arrested and taken by car by plain clothes police officers from a cafe on Smara Street in El Aaiún. According to witnesses, Ali was with friends, including the Moroccan journalist Aisha Samlali, known for her support of Saharawi activists.
“A couple of plain clothes Moroccan police took him. The arrived in two cars. We still don’t know where he is, nor what crime he is supposed to have committed” said one of Ali’s friends, Mohamad, who witnessed what happened.
“This isn’t the first time that the Moroccan Occupation Authorities have launched a campaign of harassment and arrest against those who work to protect human rights in Occupied Territories of Western Sahara during a visit by the King” commented Salha, another Adala UK member in El Aaiún. “These acts of intimidation form part of a daily campaign of repression of freedom of expression by the Moroccan regime in Western Sahara”.
According to testimonies gathered by members of Adala UK in El Aaiún, the Saharawis have demonstrated their rejection and their more forceful condemnation of the forthcoming visit by the Moroccan King to the city.
Salek told us: “Every time the King comes we see the Moroccan colonisers use our traditional dress as a welcome for the King.
Mona, a young Saharawi, also told us: “They are using and stealing our culture for this visit by the King and to give the international community the wrong idea: they want to say that the Saharawis welcome the King and this is totally untrue. It is a really big lie”.
Abdalahi, a shopkeeper, said: “The Moroccan authorities make us raise the Moroccan flag and put up photos of the king in our houses and shops. This is a constant symbol of occupation that we continue to endure”.
Adala UK believes this visit to be an aggressive and provocative act not only towards the Saharawi people, but also towards the UN and its operations, given that a debate continues in the Security Council over the situation and conflict in Western Sahara and Morocco’s illegal occupation there. Adala UK also believes that this visit marks an act of defiance by Morocco against the UN mission and reflects a lack of real will and honesty on the part of Morocco to reach a solution to the conflict.