- The international human rights body has accused Moroccan authorities of blocking "unauthorised" visits by foreigners to the homes of Sahrawi activists in Western Sahara.
Human Rights Watch said since 19 October, police have interrupted five visits by Spanish journalists and human rights lawyers, telling them that visits require prior clearance from the authorities.
The body said the recent practice, which has no apparent basis in Moroccan law, represents a new restriction on the rights of Sahrawis and of visitors to the region.
“Previously, plainclothed police generally did not interfere when foreigners entered the homes of known Sahrawi activists, although they often openly monitored such visits from a distance,” the rights organisation said.
Deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, Joe Stork said the restrictions by the Moroccan authorities are unacceptable, saying they infringe on the right of association and the right to privacy.
Restrictions on visits to the homes of Sahrawi activists coincide with a visibly tougher posture by the Moroccan authorities toward those who advocate self-determination for the contested Western Sahara.
Morocco has exercised de facto rule over the former Spanish colony since 1975 and considers it an integral part of Morocco. Other states have not formally recognised this claim.
The rights body said seven Sahrawis have been in detention since returning 8 October from a visit to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria that are administered by the Polisario Front.
The Polisario is a pro-independence movement that contests Moroccan sovereignty and demands a referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.
Moroccan authorities accused the detainees of harming "external state security" and referred their cases to a military court, a rare and ominous development for civilian defendants.
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