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.