Western Sahara: Long-Term Prisoners Await Justice

Published: 8/Nov/2022
Source: Human Rights Watch & Amnesty International

Morocco Violated Torture Convention in Case, UN Body Ruled

(Tunis) – Nineteen Sahrawi activists languish in prison years after Moroccan courts convicted them in unfair proceedings, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today.

The convictions of the so-called Gdeim Izik group stemmed from their purported role in lethal violence that erupted on November 8, 2010, when Moroccan police dismantled a protest encampment in Western Sahara. The trials were marred by a heavy reliance on “confessions” that the defendants repudiated as extracted through torture.

“Nineteen men have now spent 12 years in prison, with years still to serve, after trials that leaned heavily on tainted confessions,” said Lama Fakih, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The passage of time has only heightened the injustice in this case.”

The United Nations expert body on torture during the past year condemned violations of the Convention against Torture in three cases involving the Gdeim Izik defendants, and casts doubt on the probative value of the Moroccan judiciary’s tardy investigations into their torture allegations, which were unable to establish whether torture had taken place during the interrogations six years prior.

On November 8, 2010, Moroccan security forces moved to dismantle the Gdeim Izik encampment, which consisted of about 6,500 tents that Sahrawis had erected a month before near El-Ayoun, in Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara to protest their social and economic conditions. The resulting violent confrontations in the camp and in El-Ayoun killed 11 security officers, according to Moroccan officials, as well as 3 civilians.

Moroccan security forces repeatedly beat and abused people they detained in the immediate aftermath. Twenty-five men, some of whom the police detained before entering the camp, were later charged with forming a criminal gang and participating in or being complicit in violence against security forces “leading to death with intent,” among other charges. The men included several Sahrawi human rights defenders.

With the repudiated confessions serving as the main evidence, a military court in 2013 convicted all 25 defendants, sentencing 23 of them, including one in absentia who had fled abroad, to terms of 20 years or longer, and 2 to time already served.

In 2016, the Court of Cassation voided the military court verdict on the grounds that it was based on inconclusive evidence. The case was referred to a new trial in a civilian court.

In 2017, the Rabat Court of Appeals retried the case and upheld all of the convictions while reducing the sentences for two defendants, who were then freed. Another one of the original 25 had been on provisional release since 2011 for health reasons and died in 2018.

Read further: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/11/08/western-sahara-long-term-prisoners-await-justice

Themes: Discrimination, Ethnic/Racial/Religious, State Succession
Regions: Morocco, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (Western Sahara)
Year: 2022