Posted 2009/10/21

Morocco / Western Sahara- UPDATE - Seven Sahrawi human rights defenders could face harsh sentences before a military court

Ali Salem Tamek

Front Line was informed today that three lawyers were allowed for the first time to visit three of seven human rights defenders who are detained in prison in Sella city, Morocco. The defenders who met their lawyers were; Mr. Brahim Dahane, Mr. Yahdih Ettarrouzi and Mr. Rachid Sghayar. The lawyers hope that they will be permitted today or tomorrow to meet with the four other defenders, namely; Mr Ali Salem Tamek, Mr Ahmad Anasiri, Mr Saleh Lebayhi, and Ms. Dagja Lachgar.

Further Information

The seven defenders were arrested at Mohammad IV Airport in Casablanca, Morocco on 8 October 2009. Front Line reported its concern about the arrest of the defenders on 9 October. The defenders work for various human rights organisations in Western Sahara, including the Sahrawi Collective of Human Rights Defenders (CODESA), the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Violations of Human Rights (ASVDH), the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), the Forum for the Protection of Sahrawi Children, the Action Committee Against Torture in Dakhla/Western Sahara, and the Sahrawi Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Smara.

The families of the seven defenders are still waiting for permits to visit their relatives for the first time since their arrest. According to the families, the police officially informed them about the arrest on Monday 12 October, four days after the arrest. Some of the families were called by the police, others by the Office of the Representative of the King.

On 15 October, by going to the Court of Appeal to try to get some information, lawyers for the seven defenders found out that the defenders had recently appeared in front of the prosecution office at the Court of Appeal in Casablanca, which ruled that the case was not under its jurisdiction. The seven defenders were brought the same day before the general military prosecution in Rabat, Morocco, which ordered their detention in a prison in Sella city to wait for trial before the military court in Rabat. Dagja Lachgar is currently detained in a cell in the women's section while the six male defenders were put in three groups of two in the men's section.

According to sources, the seven defenders are accused of threatening national security and of making public statements against the Moroccan authorities. Military courts hold their hearings in private, and have previously tried human rights defenders on similar charges. For example, in 1996 a military court sentenced eight Sahrawi activists to 20 years in prison. The sentence was changed to one year but they were eventually released after one year and three months. In 1991, the same courts sentenced six Sahrawi activists to 20 years in prison but they were released after three years and six months. In 1980, the military court sentenced Sidi Mohammed Dadach to death but the sentence was changed to life imprisonment before he was released in 2001.

It is thought that the arrest of the seven human rights defenders is linked to the visits they had made to Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf in south-west Algeria, a country which is in political conflict with Morocco, including on the issue of Western Sahara. The seven defenders have allegedly been the subject of a defamation campaign by media and political groups loyal to the Moroccan authorities.

Front line calls again for the release of the seven human rights defenders since it believes that their detention and judicial persecution is directly related to their work in the defence of human rights, including the right to self determination in Western Sahara. Front Line fears that the seven defenders could be subjected to an unfair trial before the military court which could impose harsh sentences. . Front Line is seriously concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of the Mr. Brahim Dahane, Mr. Yahdih Ettarrouzi, Mr. Rachid Sghayar, Mr Ali Salem Tamek, Mr Ahmad Anasiri, Mr Saleh Lebayhi, and Ms. Dagja Lachgar.

For the Front Line original appeal on the case please refer to Original Front Line Appeal.