Forthcoming trial of 22 Gdeim Izik prisoners
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The trial has been set for 24 October in Rabat of the Saharawis arrested in connection with the Gdeim Izik protest camp. These are the people believed by the Moroccan authorities to be the ring leaders of the peaceful month-long protest in which Saharawis left the towns of occupied Western Sahara and camped in the desert about 12km from the occupied capital El Aaiun.
The protest was largely an expression of discontent by Saharawis at seeing themselves become second class citizens in their own country in terms of housing and jobs and access to health care and social services. They wanted the authorities and the world to know that they were fed up with being marginalised while they saw no benefit coming to them from Morocco’s exploitation of their natural resources. It appears this is seen a threat to national security for the Morocco, for the individuals perceived as having orchestrated the protest are to be judged in a military court.
Naama Asfari, one of the more prominent of the accused as co-president of CORELSO (Committee for the respect of freedoms and human rights in Western Sahara), launched an appeal on 19 September for a campaign on behalf of the group against being tried in a military court.
Now supporters of human rights activists have taken it a step further with a petition to the Moroccan Minister for Justice to release the prisoners in the absence of a fair and transparent trial. You can sign the petition on:
Readers may recall that when the trial was first scheduled to come to court on 13 January and many international observers had gathered to attend, it was suspended by the Crown Prosecutor. The IAJUWS (International Association of Jurists for Western Sahara) said he had exceeded his duties because only the court is competent to suspend the trial.
Another prominent prisoner in this group is Sid’Ahmed Lemsiyed, president of CSPRON (Committee to protect the natural resources of Western Sahara). He was actually arrested on 25 December 2010 weeks after the protest camp was demolished on 8 November 2010.
Incidentally, Asfari was arrested in El Aaiun the day before the dismantling of the camp at Gdeim Izik. Lemsiyed’s organisation issued a statement on the day the trial was postponed, namely 13 January 2012 calling for the activists to be released if they are not to be given a fair and transparent trial. Their communiqué listed three ways the trial was unjust:
(i) because civilians were being tried in a military court
(ii) because the trial was taking place outside Western Sahara
(iii) because of the delay in the trial. Under Moroccan law prisoners should not be held for more than a year without trial.
The charges listed last time by IAJUWS included, belonging to an armed gang, use of violence against representatives of the public forces exercising their duties, causing death by use of violence to Moroccan agents (applied to 12 of the accused) and desecration of a corpse (2 of the accused). The Algerian Press Service said they were also accused of endangering internal and external security of the state and that they risk life imprisonment.
Sahara Thawra transmits the appeal from ASVDH (Saharawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations committed by the Moroccan State) calling for lawyers and journalists to attend the trial as international observers:
Going as an observer is important too, but from the distance of Australia, it is more practical to sign the petition! We want lots of signatures. Morocco does react to international pressure, and here is our chance to help that to happen:
Please circulate the petition to your networks, friends, colleagues through Facebook, Twitter and email. Buttons to press on the site.