Western Sahara prisoners on hunger strike

Morocco’s leading independent human rights group called on the government Aug. 29 to start talks to try to end a hunger strike by prisoners from Morocco-occupied Western Sahara who are demanding better conditions. The Moroccan Human Rights Association (AMDH) said 29 prisoners in three prisons—one in the disputed territory and two in northern Moroccan cities—had refused to eat for three weeks. “The strike has started to seriously take its toll on their health,” said MDH spokesman Abdelilah Benabdeslam. “Their lives are at risk now.”

The strikers want to be moved to facilities closer to their relatives, and the lifting of Morocco’s heavy security deployment in Western Sahara’s capital Laayoune, said AMDH, which has visited some of the detainees. A justice ministry official said only 20 to 22 detainees were actually on hunger strike.

A total of 37 residents were detained during and following pro-independence protests in Western Sahara in May. Eight have not joined the hunger strike. A dozen of the 37 have been handed jail terms of up to five years for offenses including sabotage of public property and use of weapons against public officials. The rest are to be tried next month.

“The verdicts were the results of unfair trials and those awaiting to be tried have been held for much longer periods than what the law stipulates, in clear violation of their basic rights as defendants,” Benabdeslam said.

Human rights groups say some of the detained have been tortured—a charge denied by Moroccan authorities. Authorities say the May unrest was instigated by supporters of the Polisario Front, which seeks independence for the territory. Several people were hurt in clashes with police.

The Polisario Front, based in Algeria, urged the African Union this weekend to intervene and help secure the release of the 37 detainees, whom it called “political prisoners.” (Reuters, Aug. 29 via Friends of the Western Sahara)

See our last update on Western Sahara.

  1. Hunger Strike by West Saharans in Morocco Jails
    I am always leery of statements by local human rights groups; they frequently seem to exaggerate situations. This is not usually true of statements by such groups as the International Red Cross Committee, Reporters sans Frontiers, and Amnesty International. – they seem to try to keep their facts truthful.

    I don’t often believe AMDH – the Moroccan human rights organization (I also don’t always believe the Moroccan government statements, either.) Certainly by their past behavior, to get some action on this strike, you can’t look to AMDH to help. Someone should ask some group like the RED CROSS to come and inspect the jails and the penal procedures, and report to the world what they find. I would believe them, and then if conditions are bad, their report to the world would put pressure on Morocco to change them.

    The prisoners have said that they have three complaints: — conditions in their jails, — they are too far away from their families, and — easing security in the city of Laayoune. I have talked about the first demand above.

    About their second complaint, remember that these prisoners traveled to Laayoune to stage a protest or take part in a protest – and were arrested there for violating local laws; If a person has a grievance against their government (the government they are living under), they have a RESPONSIBILITY to protest peacefully or even by using civil disobedience. However, if they are caught, tried, and after a fair trial, convicted, then they should accept their punishment as the cost to protest. While I have sympathy with the protestor’s cause. I have little sympathy for this second request as they did brought it on themselves!!!

    The prisoners are members of or sympathizers of a group working to establish a different government in W. Sahara, and in their third demand, they are asking that security be lessened in Laayoune, and this is a POLITICAL request, and has nothing to do with human rights. AMDH should have ignored it in their publications – not having anything to do with human rights – but their including it lends truth to my statement that you have to watch local human rights groups, as they often have hidden agendas!!!


    1. It never gets any better around here, does it?
      Give us a break, willya? Lecturing a people living under occupation about their responsibility to “protest peacefully” is particularly repugnant when you cut slack for occupiers. And your beloved Amnesty International has certainly protested for years that, in fact, the security forces in Laayoune have a great deal indeed to do with human rights violations. Your contention that “they did brought it on themselves” is as illogical as it is ungrammatical. What, the Saharawis asked to be occupied, for their leaders to be arrested and their protests brutally put down? But I should know better than to argue with the triple-exclamation-point set…