Monday, November 28, 2005


Morocco/Western Sahara: Human rights defenders on trial
AMNESTY INTERNATIONALPublic StatementAI Index: MDE 29/009/2005 (Public)News Service No: 31828 November 2005 Embargo Date: 28 November 2005 00:01 GMTAmnesty International announced today that it is sending a delegate to observe the trial this week of seven human rights defenders from Western Sahara who the organization believes may be prisoners of conscience. They are standing trial together with seven other accused who are beingprosecuted for participating in demonstrations against Moroccan rule.Tunisian lawyer Samir Ben Amor will be representing Amnesty Internationalat the trial proceedings, which are due to begin at the Court of Appeal inLaayoune on 30 November 2005. He is an experienced human rights advocatewho previously was Amnesty International’s observer at the October 2003trial of Algerian human rights activist Salaheddine Sidhoum in Algiers.Currently detained in Laayoune Civil Prison, the seven human rightsdefenders – Aminatou Haidar, Ali-Salem Tamek, Mohamed El-Moutaouakil,Houssein Lidri, Brahim Noumria, Larbi Messaoud and H’mad Hammad – werearrested between June and August 2005. They face charges of participatingin and inciting violent protest activities and belonging to anunauthorized association, charges which they deny. Two of them allege thatthey were tortured during questioning.Amnesty International is concerned that the seven and an eighth activist,Brahim Dahane, appear to have been targeted because of their leading rolesas human rights defenders, as well as their public advocacy ofself-determination for the people of Western Sahara. Most recently, alleight have been instrumental in collecting and disseminating informationabout human rights violations committed by Moroccan forces against Sahrawiprotesters in the context of demonstrations in Laayoune and other townsand cities in Morocco and Western Sahara since May 2005.Brahim Dahane, who was arrested on 30 October 2005, is also facing chargesrelated to his human rights activities but his case remains under judicialinvestigation and he is expected to be brought to trial separately.Amnesty International believes he too may be a prisoner of conscience.Amnesty International’s concerns and recommendations regarding these casesare the focus of a newly released report Morocco/Western Sahara: Sahrawihuman rights defenders under attack (AI Index: MDE 29/008/2005), which canbe consulted on Amnesty International’s website at the following address: report also details cases of other Sahrawi human rights defenders whohave been subject to harassment and intimidation by Moroccan securityforces in recent months and allegations of human rights violations againstdemonstrators, including the death in suspicious circumstances of aprotester in October 2005.BackgroundHuman rights activists in Western Sahara have repeatedly been targeted fortheir human rights work in recent years. Some have been prevented fromtravelling abroad to report on human rights violations, while others havebeen arbitrarily imprisoned.Since May 2005, the territory of Western Sahara, particularly the town ofLaayoune, has been rocked by a series of demonstrations. In many of them,demonstrators have expressed their support for the Polisario Front, whichcalls for an independent state in the territory and has set up aself-proclaimed government-in-exile in refugee camps in south-westernAlgeria, or called for independence from Morocco. These views are anathemato the Moroccan authorities, who have responded in a heavy-handed mannerto the protests, exacerbating tensions.Western Sahara is the subject of a territorial dispute between Morocco,which controversially annexed the territory in 1975 and claims sovereigntythere, and the Polisario Front. Both parties have agreed that a referendumon the future status of Western Sahara should be organized under UNauspices, but this has been repeatedly postponed and is yet to be held.---Source:

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