Morocco: journalist threatened for Western Sahara reportage

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement Feb. 5 protesting a "smear campaign" against Moroccan journalist Ali Lmrabet, who has been accused of "treason" in numerous pro-government media outlets since he ran a piece in the Spanish daily El Mundo on his visit to bases of the Polisario Front guerilla organization, and an interview with Polisario leader Mohamed Abdelaziz in the UK-based Arabic newspaper al-Moustakillah.

Moroccan authorities have also denied Lmrabet’s application for a permit to launch a new weekly newspaper. To be named Apres-Demain or Demain-Libere, Lmrabet intended the paper to be a successor the satirical weekly Demain, which was ordered closed in 2003 for "insulting the person of the king." Lmrabet was editor at the time, and served a month in prison for this offense.

Forgotten by the outside world, US terror war ally Morocco has its own own 70,000 sq. miles of "occupied territories" in Western Sahara. When Spain pulled out of what was then Spanish Sahara in ’76, Morocco and Mauritania illegally divided the territory between them (much as Indonesia grabbed East Timor when the Portugese pulled out the previous year). And (as in East Timor) the anti-colonial rebels continued their guerilla struggle against the new masters. In 1980, Mauritania pulled out, and Morocco quickly annexed their portion of the territory. In 1990, Rabat and the Polisario Front guerillas signed a ceasefire, but Morocco has continued to stall the promised UN referendum on independence for Western Sahara. The indigenous Saharawi people of the region now protest that Morocco has been aggressively colonizing the region, complicating the prospects for a referendum. Morocco has also built a series of "security walls" to protect the settlements, which now divide Saharawi territory. (Sound familiar?)

Lmrabet visited the Saharawi refugee camp at Tindouf, Algeria, which serves as a Polisario base, and where some 400 Moroccan prisoners of war are being held. His report challenged Moroccan perceptions of Tindouf as an armed camp tightly policed by Polisario gunmen. An English translation of an interview in which Lmrabet speaks about his experiences appeared Jan. 15 in the Sahara Press Service.

Afrol News reported Jan. 28 that there have been recent violations of the ceasefire that has held since 1990, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warns that it is in danger of breaking down completely if the deadlock is not resolved.

The Saharawi struggle may fall victim to the War on Terrorism as Algeria, which has traditionally backed the Polisario guerillas, now moves closer to its traditional rival Morocco, under White House pressure for counter-terrorist cooperation. (See WW4 REPORT #90) For more information on Western Sahara, Africa’s last colonized country, see the UK-based Western Sahara Campaign.