Western Sahara 
Calls to free Sahrawi prisoner

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afrol News, 23 October - On the eve of the conclusion of his appeal trial, human rights groups today called for the "immediate and unconditional release of prisoner of conscience Ali-Salem Tamek," a human rights activist imprisoned for his views in favour of independence for the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

- The trial of 29-year-old Ali-Salem Tamek comes at a time when an alarming number of Sahrawi civil society activists, many of whom are perceived to have pro-independence tendencies, are being persecuted by the Moroccan authorities, the human rights group Amnesty International today stated.

- While significant steps have been taken to push back the boundaries of freedom of expression in recent years, the group said, "the persecution of peaceful opponents of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara remains a serious blemish on their human rights record."

Ali-Salem Tamek is a prominent activist in the Western Sahara branch of the Forum for Truth and Justice - an association set up in 1999 to campaign for the rights of victims and families of victims of torture, "disappearances" and other human rights violations. He was sentenced on 10 September 2002 to two years' imprisonment and a fine of 10,000 Moroccan dirhams (about US$ 1,000) for "undermining the internal security of the state."

Mr Tamek's conviction was based on two elements. The first was his stated belief that Western Sahara should be an independent state. The second was a statement made by three former Sahrawi prisoners of conscience during questioning by Moroccan security forces in 1999 that Mr Tamek received funds from the Polisario Front, the pro-independence movement based in neighbouring Algeria. Mr Tamek has denied the accusation.

The three former prisoners, who were sentenced on similar charges in 2000 to four years' imprisonment, but released in November 2001 following a royal pardon, have alleged that the statement was extracted from them under torture. Their allegations have never been investigated.

Tens of other Sahrawi civil society activists have been the subject of harassment and intimidation by the Moroccan authorities in recent months. Many have been members of the Western Sahara branch of the Forum for Truth and Justice. 

Some have been arrested, remanded into custody and brought to trial on apparently politically motivated charges, according to information gathered by Amnesty. Others had been arrested and released after being questioned about their alleged support of the Polisario Front. Several were reportedly denied a passport.

Two members of the Western Sahara branch of the Forum for Truth and Justice, Abdessalam Dimaoui and Ahmed Nasiri, were reportedly beaten in police custody during the summer in an attempt to force them to sign police statements admitting they had instigated violence at an anti-government protest last year. Both had denied the charge. Mr Dimaoui was acquitted after nearly two months' detention. Mr Nasiri is still awaiting the outcome of his trial.

In September this year, five members of the Sahara Unemployed Association, which believes Sahrawis are discriminated against in the job market of Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, were sentenced to up to one year in prison on public order charges after participating in a demonstration on the right to work. All were convicted on the basis of police statements, which they had refused to sign.

Sidi Mohammed Daddach, another prominent Sahrawi prisoner of conscience, on the other hand, was released from Moroccan jail almost one year ago. He has been assigned one of the world's most prestigious human rights awards, the 2002 Rafto Award. Like other pro-Sahrawi activists, Mr Daddach has however not been able to obtain a passport, meaning it remains unsure whether he will be able to go to Norway on 4 November to collect the award.

Sources: Based on Amnesty and afrol archives

afrol News.

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