Waleed Al-Batal sentenced to prison
On 22 September 2017, human rights defender Waleed Al-Batal was released by Moroccan authorities after spending 10 months in custody. He was sentenced on 16 February 2017 at the Court of Appeals in Laayone but it was backdated to the time of his arrest on 21 November 2016.
Waleed Al-Batal is a human rights defender and blogger who documents human rights violations by the Moroccan authorities, particularly in Al-Samara (Samara) city in Western Sahara, on a regular basis. Waleed Al-Batal contributes to the online news site, “Al-Samara News”.
On 5 December, the Moroccan court of first instance in Western Sahara sentenced Mr Waleed Al-Batal to fourteen months in prison after being held in custody since 21 November.
Waleed Al-Batal denied all charges being brought against him. The charges included inter alia engaging in violence against civil servants while on duty, participating in an armed assembly and vandalism of public property. The spurious charges were issued after the human rights defender participated in peaceful protests calling for civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of people in Western Sahara and published media reports about the interference of Moroccan authorities in the aforementioned peaceful protests.
For the time being, the human rights defender is being held in a detention facility in Al-Samara (Samara). His lawyer intends to appeal the decision of the court of first instance. As he was taken away, Waleed Al-Batal called for the rights of the people of Western Sahara and repeated slogans calling particularly for the right to self-determination. Members of the Moroccan police force initially apprehended Waleed Al-Batal on 21 November. His trial, which was due to take place on 24 November was delayed until 1 December, and was then postponed to 5 December when the judgement against him was made.
In recent months, Moroccan authorities have cracked down on human rights defenders with a campaign of arrests under spurious charges identical to those brought against Waleed Al-Batal.
Front Line Defenders condemns the sentence against Waleed Al-Batal as it believes it to be in retaliation to his legitimate and peaceful human rights activities in Western Sahara.
Front Line Defenders urges the Moroccan authorities to:
1. Quash the sentence against Waleed Al-Batal as Front Line Defenders believes that the sentence to be solely as a result of his legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights;
2. Immediately and unconditionally release human rights defender Waleed Al-Batal and cease any further judicial harassment against him;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Western Sahara are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.