- The international human rights body has called on Moroccan authorities to cease a ban on foreign travel against selected Sahrawi activist, saying it hampers the freedom of movement.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said since August 2009, the government has revived an arbitrary and repressive measure, which it had used frequently more than a decade ago to bar Sahrawis’ from traveling abroad.
Middle East director at HRW, Sarah Leah Whitson said Morocco is again holding the right to arbitrarily provided or withdraw the passports of dissidents at will.
According to HRW, in recent months authorities have turned back at least 13 Sahrawi activists, whose papers were reportedly in order at the airport or land borders, confiscating passports from seven of them, without providing a legal basis for doing so.
It further said Moroccan authorities have also failed to approve passport renewal applications of at least three other Sahrawi activists, who said they had submitted all of the necessary paperwork weeks and in some cases more than one year earlier for a process that normally takes no more than a few days.
The restrictions on foreign travel are part of a pattern of increased repression against Sahrawis who oppose Morocco’s sovereignty claim over the Western Sahara and who favor self-determination for the contested territory, according HRW.
In November, Morocco reportedly began preventing foreigners who travel to Western Sahara from visiting Sahrawi activists in their homes, breaking up such meetings and telling the foreigners that they must get prior clearance from the authorities.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Morocco often denied passports or the right to travel to dissidents and former political prisoners, both Sahrawi and non-Sahrawi. This practice diminished overall during and since the 1990s, with notable exceptions.
Morocco has annexed the former Spanish colony since 1976, leaving around one third of mostly uninhabited Saharawi lands, the interior part bordering Algeria and Mauritania on Polisario's hands.
Polisario has waged a low-level guerrilla war in Western Sahara from 1975 until 1991, when United Nations brokered a ceasefire. The territory remains divided and many Sahrawi refugees live in camps in Algeria.
Both Morocco and Polisario are increasingly frustrated about the status quo. Polisario has been promised a referendum over independence since 1991, but Moroccan regime had squashed all hopes of such a solution.
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