Western Sahara 
Moroccan prisoner turns hailed ambassador

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» 05.11.2002 - Sidi Daddach: "On death row one smiles during the day" 
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Rafto Foundation 

Sidi Mohammed Daddach

«Now I finally feel for the first time that I'm out of the prison!»

Sidi Mohammed Daddach

afrol News, 2 November - One year ago, Sidi Mohammed Daddach "sat on death row" in a Moroccan high security prison expecting "to be executed" each an every day. Today, the 45-year-old Sahrawi is in Bergen, Norway, being hailed as ambassador of the fight for human rights. He barely made it, however.

Tomorrow, the ex-political prisoner is to receive the prestigious Rafto Award - the "Nobel Price" of human rights - at a Bergen ceremony. All together, Mr Daddach has spent 24 years in Moroccan prisons for his views on the occupation of his home country, Western Sahara. And all this time, he has fought for the rights of the "numerous" political prisoners in Morocco.

Today, Mr Daddach is at a Bergen hospital to have a full medical check; the first since he was a teenager. "When I was captured by the Moroccans, I was injured, but through all those years in prison, I was denied medical treatment even though I pleaded for it many times," he comments. 

The ambitious programme for the Bergen visit of the marked Sahrawi however remained unsure until the last moment. Only on Tuesday, the Rafto Foundation was notified of Mr Daddach's arrival. Over one month of lobbying had produced the result; a Moroccan passport for the Sahrawi ex-prisoner. He had been soliciting it since February.

The Moroccan government strictly guards its passports, and political dissidents especially cannot expect to have one issued, according to Amnesty International. Mr Daddach in so far was an exception; "In the end, the Norwegian government and the Norwegian Embassy in Rabat were instrumental in securing Daddach's trip to Norway," one of the organisers says. They have been barred from giving more details.

The Sahrawi expressed his appreciation already on arrival in Norway: "Now I finally feel for the first time that I'm out of the prison!" 

Departing from Morocco as a "supporter of terrorist groups," he arrived Norway Friday as a prominent symbol of the fight against repressive governments. Yesterday, he was received as a state guest by the Lord Mayor of Bergen city, Mr Kristian Helland, who expressed his "deep respect" for Mr Daddach. Mr Helland further articulated the "hope that this prize will help you and your people in Western Sahara so that the Sahrawi people one day can be a free nation".

The Lord Mayor of Bergen pointed at exactly the issue that is bothering the Moroccan government; the Rafto Award for Mr Daddach is not only an acknowledgement of the laureate's human rights engagement, it is much more an acknowledgement of the Sahrawis' fight for independence and an end to Moroccan occupation of their territory. Mr Arne Lynngård, leader of the Rafto Board, confirmed to afrol News that his foundation wanted to "increase international focus on the rightful struggle for Sahrawi independence." 

Mr Daddach is an ambassador of Sahrawi independence. He was a member of the POLISARIO liberation movement when he first was arrested, 19 years old. For that, he spent 24 years in Moroccan prisons, including "14 years on death row." 

The laureate has not changed his mind on Sahrawi independence. He accepted the Rafto Prize as "a truthful honour to the Sahrawi people and all those peoples who fought and fight for freedom and human dignity." For the Sahrawi, "there is no alternative to the referendum" [over independence, which the UN is trying to organise since 1992], he said in his speech to the Rafto Symposium in Bergen yesterday. 

Asked today whether he still was a member of POLISARIO, Mr Daddach diplomatically answers "I am Sahrawi and the POLISARIO represents the Sahrawi people; in that way, we are all member of POLISARIO." Asked whether he defends Western Sahara's independence, he again turns diplomatic and says "it is the referendum I defend, and nobody knows the result of that. I think that must be a normal position for Sahrawis and Moroccans alike."

Now, that might sound very normal, given that Morocco is signatory to an agreement that provides for a referendum in Western Sahara. Fact is however that people still are imprisoned in Morocco for being only POLISARIO sympathisers or for defending the Sahrawis' right to decide for themselves. 

- Having spent so many years in prison for the same "crime", are you not afraid of repeating such positions, which could lead to prosecution in Morocco? afrol News asked Mr Daddach. 

- I defend these positions, he answers resolutely, "and I do not care what might happen to me as a consequence of this." He says this in a telephone interview, seated in a taxi bound for the Bergen airport. In fifteen minutes, he will see his mother for the first time in 27 years. He knows the personal costs of imprisonment. 

Sidi Daddach was separated from his mother as she fled to the Dakhla refugee camp in the Algerian desert. While he ended up in Moroccan prisons, his mother has kept lobbying for him, sending letters to the UN Secretary-General and to other institutions. 

As the possibility of coming to Bergen was improving, he expressed his strongest desire to the Rafto Foundation; if they could help him reunite with his mother. The Foundation contacted the Norwegian Foreign Office, which was able to cut through Algerian bureaucracy. 

Two days ago, Sidi Daddach's mother obtained an Algerian passport. Yesterday, she obtained a visa to go to Norway. Today, she was given a ticket; Tindouf - Algiers - Lyon - Amsterdam - Bergen; quite a journey for an old woman who "never has travelled before, not even taken the bus," the organisers explain. Now they are united in Bergen, however, the two Sahrawis with one Moroccan and one Algerian passport.

By Rainer Chr. Hennig
afrol News editor

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