Morocco: AI Welcomes Morocco's Release of Sahrawi Human Rights Defender after Monthlong Hunger Strike

Press Release
December 18, 2009

Morocco: AI Welcomes Morocco's Release of Sahrawi Human Rights Defender after Monthlong Hunger Strike

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL USA
PRESS RELEASE

Friday, December 18, 2009 

Amnesty International Welcomes Morocco's Release of Sahrawi Human Rights Defender after Monthlong Hunger Strike

Organization Remains Concerned for Eight Individuals Held as Prisoners of Conscience by Morocco

(New York) -- Amnesty International USA today welcomed the news that Sahrawi human rights defender Aminatou Haidar has been allowed to return to her home in Western Sahara and urged Moroccan authorities to provide medical treatment to help her recover following a monthlong hunger strike that seriously weakened her health.

A recipient of important U.S. human rights awards for her work exposing and campaigning to stop human rights violations in Western Sahara, Haidar, 42, who is the mother of two, was illegally expelled by Moroccan authorities from Western Sahara in November after returning from the United States to receive the prestigious 2009 Civil Courage Prize.

Amnesty International said Haidar's expulsion and the confiscation of her Moroccan identification document and passport were politically motivated and that she was being punished because of her defense of Western Sahara's self-determination.

"Amnesty International is elated to hear that Aminatou Haidar is being allowed to return to her home without conditions," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "This is a great victory for human rights."

Haidar, who was secretly detained without trial by Morocco from 1987 to 1991, is the 2008 recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. She just recently received the Civil Courage Prize "for steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk."

Amnesty International activists, joined by other organizations, have mobilized worldwide demanding Haidar's return.

Amnesty International said after a month on a hunger strike, Haidar's health had become severely degraded and called on the Moroccan government to provide her with adequate medical care until she fully recovers. At present, she is resting comfortably.

The organization thanked the Moroccan government for allowing her to return and also thanked the Spanish government for its positive role in this crisis and the intervention of the U.S. government, especially Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator John Kerry, D-Ma., chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Haidar was detained at Laayoune airport in Western Sahara on Nov. 13 and questioned about her travel, her political opinions and affiliations. Her Moroccan passport and identity card were confiscated. She said the following day, officials offered to release her if she gave a public acknowledgement of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. She refused and a few hours later she was put on a flight to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands where she began a hunger strike in protest that lasted until her flight home.

Amnesty International remains concerned about Morocco’s recent backsliding on human rights.

In October, Amnesty declared eight new prisoners of conscience being held by Morocco. Seven are Western Saharan rights activists facing military tribunals for visiting the Polisario-administered refugee camps near Tindouf, Algeria. Included is Idriss Chahtane, publisher of the Almichaal weekly newspaper, who has been imprisoned for printing an article about the Moroccan king.

Additionally, Amnesty is concerned about a new case of ‘disappearence,’ a practice long thought abandoned by the Moroccan government. Ahmed Mahmoud Haddi, a Western Saharan man aged about 32, was abducted on October 28 by people suspected of being members of Moroccan security forces. He may have been subjected to an enforced disappearance, and is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

T. Kumar of Amnesty International USA’s government relations unit, said:

"The Moroccan government under King Mohammed VI has been a regional leader in addressing past human rights abuses through its Equity and Reconciliation Commission. Recent actions, however, including its increasing harassment of Sahrawi human rights defenders, point to a disturbing backslide on the rights to freedom of association, expression and assembly."

Background:
The Moroccan authorities have little tolerance for people who speak out in favor of self-determination for Western Sahara, which was Spanish territory until Morocco annexed it in 1975. They appear to be adopting an increasingly repressive approach to the activities of Sahrawi human rights defenders, in breach of their obligations under international treaties.

Western Sahara is the subject of a territorial dispute between Morocco, which claims sovereignty, and the Polisario Front, which calls for an independent state in the territory and has set up a self-proclaimed government-in-exile in refugee camps in southwestern Algeria.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, 212-633-4150, strimel@aiusa.org