WESTERN SAHARA: Campaign for release of political prisoners

sahara

An international campaign has been launched to press for the release of 25 Western Saharan political prisoners, among them a high profile activist, jailed on trumped up charges by the occupying Moroccan authorities.

Last February, Sidahmed Lemjayed was sentenced to life imprisonment for peaceful political activities in Western Sahara – a country which has been occupied by neighbouring Morocco since 1975.

He was sentenced along with 24 others (one of them in absentia). Most of the Saharawi activists got terms of more than 25 years imprisonment. Nine of them were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Although Sidahmed Lemjayed is a civilian, he was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Moroccan military court on February 16, 2013. The charges against him were ‘membership of a criminal gang and deadly violence against members of the Moroccan security forces’ during the raid of the Gdeim Izik protest camp outside El Aaiún in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara – a peaceful protest against the social and economic conditions of the Saharawis (the indigenous population of Western Sahara) living under Moroccan occupation. But the charges were fabricated.

Campaign groups see Sidahmed and the other 24 prisoners as political prisoners who are being punished for their work to protect the natural resources of Western Sahara against widespread, illegal Moroccan plunder and the widespread exploitation of Western Sahara’s natural resources.

The group Africa Contact has launched a signature campaign to to demand the release of Sidahmed Lemjayed and the 24 other Gdeim Izik prisoners(See: http://www.afrika.dk/free-sidahmed-lemjayed)

Among the resources that Morocco illegal exploits from Western Sahara are phosphates, which is important in the fertilizer industry, and fishing off the Atlantic coast. The European Union is in the process of renewing a fisheries agreement with Morocco, which will allow fishing vessels from EU countries to fish in Moroccan waters. According to the agreement, this does not exclude the waters off Western Sahara – although it is legally bound to, according to the UN legal office.

As the President of the Committee for the Protection of Natural Resources (CSPRON), Sidahmed Lemjayed worked against Morocco’s and the EU’s theft of his countries’ natural resources.

“With this campaign, we wish to focus attention on, and demand justice for, not only Sidahmed Lemjayed, but also the other Saharawi political prisoners together with whom he was sentenced. We also wish to send a strong message to the Moroccan government, that the world will not simply stand by while Morocco continues to colonize Western Sahara, brutalize its native population, steal its resources and devastate its environment”, says Africa Contact’s Political Chairperson, Mads Barbesgaard.

Apart from Africa Contact, the court case against Lemjayed has been condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Committee Against Torture, among many others, who all deplored the fact that Sidahmed Lemjayed and his co-accused were tried at a military court.

Many MPs, diplomats and individuals – including respected film maker Ken Loach – have also criticized the trial, and there have been protests in front of Moroccan embassies around the world, including a protest in front of the Moroccan Embassy in Copenhagen, arranged by Africa Contact.

According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the Moroccan authorities often use torture as a means of extracting false confessions from Saharawi (Western Sahara’s indigenous population) detainees. The methods of torture include beatings, electroshock, rape and the threat of rape.

Lemjayed and his 24 co-accused were detained and held without trial for two years in the infamous Sale prison in Morocco (anything exceeding one year is illegal according to Moroccan law). Many of them are human rights activists, like Lemjayed, and campaign for an independent Western Sahara and against the extension of the EU-Moroccan Fisheries Agreement.

They all vigorously deny the charges against them; insist that the trial against them was politically motivated, and that they were in effect convicted before the trial even started for having helped to arrange the Gdeim Izik protest-camp. The prisoners have been on several hunger strikes to protest the ill-treatment, torture and awful conditions that they have had to endure whilst in prison.

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