Friday, November 25, 2005

Amnesty denounces abuse in Western Sahara

Amnesty denounces abuse in Western Saharaafrol News, 24 November- Amnesty International today released a report on the systematichuman rights violations committed by the Moroccan occupying forces inWestern Sahara. The human rights group in particular protests thedetention of "prisoners of conscience" and the Moroccan denial ofbasic human rights in the occupied territory.The report, released today, in particular looks into the fate of eightleading Sahrawi human rights activists that have been imprisoned sincedemonstrations and riots started in the occupied territory in May thisyear. Amnesty says it believes that "they may be prisoners ofconscience." Two of them allege that they were tortured duringquestioning.In many of the demonstrations since May, Sahrawi activists haveexpressed their support for the Polisario Front freedom movement orcalled for independence from Morocco. "These views are anathema to theMoroccan authorities, which have not only responded in a heavy-handedmanner to the protests, thereby exacerbating tensions, but alsowidened the scope of the repression by arresting and detaininglong-standing human rights activists who were monitoring anddisseminating information on the crackdown," Amnesty noted.Eight of the activists are currently in detention and awaiting trial.At least one protester has died "in suspicious circumstances" inOctober 2005. Amnesty had not been able to document torture, but goesfar in indicating torture has been common in Moroccan detentioncentres.The human rights group until the Sahrawi riot has welcomed on numerousoccasions the positive steps which the Moroccan authorities have takenin the field of human rights in recent years. However, "theiruncompromising stance in stamping out any form of dissent on the issueof Western Sahara remains a serious stain on their record. Events thisyear have set this into stark relief," the report says.All eight human rights defenders Amnesty report about have activelycampaigned against human rights abuses in Western Sahara for severalyears. Most recently, they have been instrumental in collecting anddisseminating information about human rights violations committed byMoroccan forces against Sahrawi protesters in the context ofdemonstrations in El Aaiun and other towns since May 2005.They have now been charged on various counts related to participatingin and inciting violent protest activities, but deny the accusations.Each of them has also been charged with belonging to an unauthorisedassociation.Amnesty in its report says it believes that most of the chargesagainst the Sahrawi activists are related to their past membership ofthe human rights organization Forum for Truth and Justice – SaharaBranch. This organisation was dissolved by Moroccan court order inJune 2003 on the grounds that the organisation had undertaken illegalactivities "likely to disturb public order and undermine theterritorial integrity of Morocco.""The activities described as illegal appeared to relate solely tomembers of the organisation exercising their right to express theiropinions on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, anddisseminating views on human rights issues to outside bodies such asinternational human rights organisations, including AmnestyInternational," the report says.Although the Sahrawi human rights organisation was dissolved, theactivists have continued individually to document human rightsviolations in Western Sahara, "thus putting themselves at risk ofarrest and detention," Amnesty says.Despite the charges being brought against them, Amnesty said it is"concerned that the eight activists appear to have been targetedbecause of their leading roles as human rights defenders and theirexposure of abuses by Moroccan security forces, as well as theirpublic advocacy of self-determination for the people of WesternSahara." Consequently, the group believes "they may be prisoners ofconscience, in which case they should be released immediately andunconditionally."In addition to the immediate release of these prisoners, Amnesty inits report called on the Moroccan occupying authorities to investigatethe many allegations of torture against Sahrawi activists. Further,Morocco should "put an immediate end to the arrest, harassment andintimidation of human rights defenders," the report concludes.By staff writer(c) afrol News_______________________________________________Source:

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