afrol News, 22 April - Two Norwegian journalists this week on two occasions were detained and hindered in their work by Moroccan police in occupied Western Sahara. The two were documenting police violence against Saharawi demonstrators and were further stopped from contacting the UN peacekeeping mission in the territory.
This week's detention of Rådmund Steinsvåg and Anne Torhild Nilsen marks the third harassment of Norwegian journalists in one year by Moroccan police during their coverage of the conflict in Western Sahara. In mid-2004, another Norwegian was deported from Western Sahara to Mauritania by Moroccan troops. Later that year, two more Norwegians were expelled.
The first harassment of Mr Steinsvåg and Ms Nilsen happened as the two were photographing a police attack on a peaceful demonstration in the Sahrawi capital, El Aaiun. "I have filmed police beating peaceful demonstrators, m being pushed by the police and denied picking up my camera," Mr Steinsvåg told the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.
According to Mr Steinsvåg, "it is seldom that there are neutral witnesses to peaceful demonstrations in occupied Western Sahara, and the information seldom reaches Europe. The Moroccans clearly prefer it to stay that way. Therefore, I was a threat to them," the photographer explained.
The next day, the two colleagues tried to meet with representatives of the UN peacekeepers in Western Sahara - who are supervising the 1991 ceasefire - but again they were hindered. "At the main entrance to the UN building, we were stopped by several civilian dressed police officers and denied access," says Ms Nilsen.
According to the reporter, "it is close to impossible working as a journalist in Western Sahara. Journalists have to work under-cover just to be let into the country," she added.
After being detained and interrogated by the Moroccan police, the two were obliged to interview pro-Moroccan associations. Against their will, they were transferred in a private car of a police officer to the Parador Hotel, where they were expected by two representatives of the association and a translator and forced to do the interview.
Signe Aanby, spokeswoman of the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara, today strongly protested the Moroccan police action and added that the Committee had referred the case to the Oslo Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "I expect the Ministry to protest to Moroccan authorities and get more engaged in the human rights situation in occupied Western Sahara," Ms Aanby said in a statement today. Spokeswoman Cathrine Andersen of the Oslo Ministry however only wanted to give general statements regarding the UN's role in Western Sahara.
The two Norwegian journalists have now returned to their homes. They were however able to smuggle out some photos documenting police violence against demonstrators in El Aaiun. These represent some of first photo documentation ever of such police violence.
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