20 Feb 2013 : Trial of 24 Akdeim Izik- Report from Equipo Mediático
The trial of the Saharawis kept in prison for political reasons after the attack against the «Akdeim Izik» protest camp by the Moroccan authorities on November 8, 2010, started on February 8, 2012 in Rabat before the Moroccan Military Court, after having been postponed twice. They have all denounced the charges against them and demonstrated that they were false and fabricated for this specific event.
Many testified that they had been regularly tortured and humiliated during interrogations to the point they feared to die there from.
The overall and the day-to-day course of the trial are reported herein, as well as some specific elements of each political prisoner’s intervention before the court.
First day: Friday 8
Friday, February 8, in the presence of more than a hundred international observers, the Moroccan court martial in Rabat began the trial of the 24 Saharawi political prisoners of the «Akdeim Izik» group.
On this first day, the general framework of the trial was established by giving the floor to the lawyers.
Some families were allowed to enter the court and some were blocked at the entrance by the Moroccans. The defendants’ friends and the activists were denied entry. The international observers were admitted, both those invited by the Moroccan authorities and those supporting the Saharawi people.
The doors were opened at 9 a.m. but the hearings began at 11 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m. with a lunch on interval of 2 hours.
During this day, the king’s public prosecutor announced that he wanted to hear the testimonies of 9 persons.
The defence opposed unless their identities were made public and it was clear that they were not agents working for and paid by the regime. The judge then decided to defer the hearing of these witnesses to the end of the trial after having heard the defendants, without clarifying whether it would then be required that their identity be disclosed.
A second formal criticism was made by the defence lawyers with respect to the military court’s jurisdiction. As a matter of fact, the Moroccan Constitution does not recognize special courts. The court rejected the defence’s arguments and regarded itself as having jurisdiction in the light of Article 75 of the Code of Military Justice.
Second day: Saturday 9
On the second day, Saturday, February 9, the court has limited the number of Saharawi’s entries to 45 persons.
As a sign of protest against this discriminatory measure, the families refused to enter without the activists. Only 3 ASVDH representatives and 5 CODESA representatives finally entered the court room. The families and the other activists remained in front of the court building where they demonstrated their discontent.
5 prisoners were heard: Ennama Asfari, Mohamed Tahlil, Hassan Eddah, Bachir Khadda and Abdallahi Tubali.
The court started hearing Ennama Asfari, a Saharawi activist who is vice-president of the French organization CORELSO. This spoke of the legal framework of the Western Sahara conflict and stated that he had been arrested on November 7, that is, one day before the attack against the camp and highlighted the events of that day. He also stated that he had been ill-treated and tortured several times. He added that, as an intellectual, he was fully capable of signing his testimony and denounced that he had been forced to fingerprint the minutes recording his statement instead of signing them as he refused to approve them. Mohamed Tahlil, Hassan Eddah, Bachir Khadda denied all the charges against them. They reminded the court that they are activists known for their action and claims in favour of Western Sahara’s self-determination.
Mohamed Tahlil spoke in the Hassania language and requested the presence of a translator of classical Arabic. The translation was made by someone without being ensured that it was a sworn translator. It seemed to be more a Saharawi integrated in the Moroccan army. Tahlil stated that he had never entered the Akdeim Izik camp nor had he participated in the establishment of the camp. He was arrested with the other two in a café in El Aaiún on December 5, 2010, that is, nearly a month after the camp was dismantled.
Abdallahi Tubali, a member of the dialogue committee of Akdeim Izik camp declared that the marginalisation of the Saharawi population and the plundering of their natural resources have been the basis of the establishment of the Akdeim Izik camp. He denied the charges against him and accused the authorities of having abducted him. He requested the court to hear the testimony of Ms Gajmula Mint Abbi, a Member of Parliament who visited him on November 7, 2010.
On that day, that is, on the eve of the Moroccan intervention against the camp, he had been severely injured in an accident with a Moroccan police car that has run over him.
Third day: Sunday 10
Sunday, February 10, the trial resumed by hearing the prisoner Ettaqui Lmachdufi who declared that the Akdeim Izik camp was the evidence of the Saharawi refusal of the occupation by Morocco. Lamin Haddi, Brahim El Ismaili and El Ayubi Mohamed were heard thereafter.
For his part, the political prisoner Mohamed Lamin Haddi claimed to be surprised at the charges against him and denied all the allegations made against him.
«Yes, we can die to stop the injustice against our people», he said.
At the beginning of his intervention, he stressed that his health condition would not let him speak at length. He presented himself as an activist for the independence of Western Sahara and he stated that the Moroccan authorities had begun their harassment against him because he had attended with 71 other people an International Symposium on «the peoples’ right to resistance» that took place in Algeria in September 2010.
M. Haddi made it clear that his refusal to sing the Moroccan national anther or to pronounce «long live the king» led to his being subjected to more torture by the former Moroccan military officers.
Brahim el Ismaili said that, before this time, he had already been subject of arrest by abduction. In 1987, he was abducted and has spent 8 months in a secret prison in El Aaiún. He recalled the international legality and the United Nations’ decisions on the Western Sahara conflict. He added that the crimes committed by Morocco against the Saharawi population never stopped since 1975 and he stressed that the increase in security and paramilitary forces that currently arrived in the cities of Western Sahara predict the authorities’ intention to commit new violence. M. Ismaili saluted the Saharawi people for their solidarity with all of them.
Banga Cheij was the fourth one to intervene. The young man started to evoke before the court the background of the conflict related to decolonization and the right of his people to self-determination. He quoted the statement of the American thinker Noam Chomsky who affirmed that the Arab Spring began in Akdeim Izik.
He recalled that he has been arrested on November 8, 2010 within the Akdeim Izik camp for having brought medicine for his aunt who was established in Akdeim Izik. He pointed out that he was carried to the Gendarmerie headquarters where he suffered psychological and physical torture. He also stated that every town or city in Western Sahara express on their own Morocco’s non-sovereignty over this territory. The United Nations vehicles and those of other international organizations prove it through their presence on the streets, despite the false propaganda of the colonising country.
M. El Ayubi Mohamed, 60 years old, could hardly walk but he refused the gendarmes’ assistance, calling them murderers. Afterwards, he took off his clothes so that the judges could witness the signs of torture on his body. Then he asked the court how could a man suffering from chronic illnesses, having neither a driver’s licence nor a car, override people. He further stated the reasons that motivated him to move with thousands of other Saharawi out of the city of El Aaiún: the plundering of natural resources and not only the marginalisation but also the hindering of the Saharawi people’s right to self-determination
Fourth day: Monday 11
On February 11, 2013, the Rabat court martial continued the hearing of the Saharawi political prisoners and heard Mohamed Khona Babait, Lkhfauni Abdellah, Abderahman Zayu, Sidi Abdellah Abahah, Mohamed Bachir Butengiza, Sidi Abdellah Abahah.
The defendant M. Mohamed Khona Babait entered the court room chanting slogans in favour of self-determination and the independence of Western Sahara. This time and contrary to what had happened the day before, the judge interrupted the defendant several times and asked him to continue in the context and to answer the questions related to the charges.
The prisoner Lkhfauni Abdellah denied all the charges against him and accused the Moroccan services of having tortured and humiliated him during custody and on the plane. He stated that he is a former «disappeared», locked up throughout the year 1994 in a secret centre in El Aaiún and that he was arrested in 1995 after taking part in a demonstration in Bojador. He added that he was arrested in 1998 when he tried to join the Saharawi refugee camps.
When asked why he had prevented the governor of El Aaiún from entering the Akdeim Izik camp, he declared that he had followed the instructions because he was a participant and not a leader of the camp.He further added that he had been arrested with a Spanish journalist (ERENA CALVO) at the police roadblock near the camp. The judge interrupted him several times which led to protests of the defence.
The judge decided for a two hours interruption of the hearing for the meal break and this has shortened Lkhfauni Abdellah’s intervention.
Two other prisoners, El Bakai Laarabi and Lafkir Mohamed M’barek also denied the accusations and explained the circumstances of their arrest.
Mr. Lafkir stated that he was an activist for the independence of Western Sahara but he had never used violence for that. He has told how the occupation authorities have built a wall to encircle the Akdeim Izik camp, comparing it to the Berlin wall. He denounced the torture and the humiliations he has suffered at the hands of the Moroccan military and police. They have pulled out his beard, the toenails and urinated on him.
El Bakai was arrested on September 9, 2012 in Villa Cisneros while working in illegal transport. He was identified as a member of the dialogue committee in Akdeim Izik. He was taken to El Aaiún where he was subjected to torture. He was then imprisoned in Salé with the other prisoners because of his political position.
Abderahman Zayu is a civil servant. He claimed to love peace and to condemn violence. He is a militant association member and he said that his arrest was linked to his declaration to the international TV channel Al Jazeera. He stated that he has also been tortured and denied all charges against him. He reiterated that the Saharawi State is the solution.
Mohamed Bachir Butngiza also entered the court room chanting political slogans. He started talking about the history of his political commitment. He recalled that he has been arrested in 1992 and has spent 8 months in a secret prison in El Aaiún. He was forced to immigrate and leave El Aaiún because a false case had been fabricated by the police accusing him of being involved with drugs. Although Western Sahara is a rich country, he immigrated illegally in a small boat. He has always been active and participated in many demonstrations against the Moroccan occupation. He stated that he has been raped with a bottle after his arrest by the security officer Hamid Bahri who accused him of having killed a soldier and of having urinated on him.
M. Butngiza denied the charges against him and said that he was ready to be confronted with the videos and to answer all questions. He finished by saying that “the Saharawi State is the solution”.
Sidi Abdellah Abahah saluted the AMDH (Moroccan Association of Human Rights), the political party “la voie démocratique” and all honourable Moroccans, observers and those in solidarity with the Saharawi cause who came to attend the trial. In his opinion, Morocco has sent more than 180,000 Moroccans to the towns and cities of Western Sahara and placed them for decades in camps around towns and cities of the occupied territories to falsify the referendum, without giving them a real opportunity of movement or of progress.
He linked this practice of the Moroccan regime to the charges against them of having illegally held citizens who came voluntarily and in a growing number to the Akdeim Iznik camp to protest against the occupation.
Fifth day: Tuesday 12
On Tuesday, February 12, 2013, the court heard Ahmed Sbaai, Daich Dafi, Abdeljalil Laarussi¸ Mohamed Bani, Hussein Zaui, Mohamed Burial. Then XXX Saharawi witnesses and 1 of the 9 expected Moroccan witnesses.
Ahmed Sbaai fainted on February 10 and was taken to the prison’s hospital. He started by declaring that during the interrogation sessions, the investigators questioned him about subjects other than the Akdeim Izik incidents, about his political action and activity. He suffers from a heart disease and stated that he fainted several times during the investigation. A hospital doctor asked the investigators not to torture him any longer. According to him, the conditions were so difficult and painful that he thought he was going to die and become a martyr of the cause.
To the judge’s question about his links with Hassana Aalia, M. Sbaai answered that he was a fellow activist as himself and criticized the contradictions of the Moroccan police, being aware of M. Aalia’s involvement in the Akdeim Izik protest, arrested him, then released him after 3 days and let him go to Spain.
Daich Dafi, a member of the dialogue committee, also entered the court room chanting slogans for the self-determination and the independence of Western Sahara. He presented himself as a sports and organization activist. In his opinion, the violent attack against the camp on November 8 is a betrayal and an implementation of Moroccan lies. According to his explanations, the general Abdelaziz Benani, Chief of Staff, had promised them 2700 official posts before the three Governors who represent the Moroccan Minister for Internal Affairs. They thus created the illusion that the Saharawi social demands were being heard, when the evidence demonstrates the opposite.
He declared that he had been assaulted with a sharp cutting tool during interrogation. He showed the marks of torture on his face. Such violence did not diminish his determination and he repeated political slogans.
Abdeljalil Laarussi, security manager at the camp, also denounced that he had been assaulted with a sharp cutting object during his interrogation. He explained the purpose of the camp and the reasons why the Saharawi inhabitants had decided to move. He said that the two reasons were his people’s claim for the right to self-determination and their opposition to the plundering of the natural resources of their territory. The judge’s questions focused on his actual responsibility as security chief of the camp and on his relations with the Polisario. He asked him whether his leader was Bulsan.
Mohamed Bani, said that he was born in 1969. He fled with the Saharawi people into the exile of the refugee camps in the south-western part of Algeria in 1975. He studied in June 9 school (date of death of the martyr El Wali, founder of the Polisario Front). He joined the Saharawi liberation army where he was taught solid moral values, so he cannot have killed anyone, contrary to the accusations against him. At that time, he was an official working in the Moroccan Ministry of Equipment and has never been absent from work. A statement signed by his Regional Director confirms that he was in his workplace until November 5, 2010. The Prosecutor opposed the argument as unimportant.
Hussein Zaui began by saluting the AMDH and all those who stand in solidarity with the Saharawi cause. He added that he was a member of the dialogue committee and, therefore, he had participated in the negotiations with the Moroccan authorities represented by top officials responsible.
The Minister of Interior and three Governors attended those negotiations headed by M. Ilias El Omari, the latter as delegate of the supreme organs (that is to say the King and his friends).
M. Zaui declared that he underwent attempts of corruption but he had refused all proposals. He added that he had endured rape and torture to such an extent that he had to be taken to hospital. He finished his testimony chanting slogans for the Saharawi people’s self-determination.
Mohamed Burial, also a member of the dialogue committee in Akdeim Izik, was the last one to speak for the prisoners’ group. He asked the court why no investigation had been opened following the assassination of the young Ennajem Lgarhi, the young Saharawi killed by the Moroccan army. He also confirmed that Ilias El Omari was present at the dialogue and negotiation meetings as the representative of the palace, assisted by the Moroccan Minister of Interior, thus demonstrating the duplicity of the speech of the Moroccan State.
He denied all charges against him and chanted slogans in favour of self-determination.
From 14 to 16 February, the court continued its hearings of the trial of the 24 Saharawi civilian political prisoners of the Akdeim Izik group
As concerns these two days, several facts should be remembered.
The court considered as admissible the form of the application presented by the defence lawyers concerning the performing of a medical expert examination for rape of the four prisoners Abdeljalil Laarussi, Daich Daf, Zaui Hussein et Mohamed El Ayubi. However, after deliberation, the application was rejected.
During the reading of the charges against the 24 prisoners, the judges added that Hassana Aalia was considered a fugitive and requested that the penalties be applied to him according to the acts attributed to him.
The Prosecutor recognized that there were prisoners for whom there was no evidence that they were at the camp, but it did not mean that they did not play an active role in the planning of the camp establishment. Thus, the judges consider Bolsan the brain and the mastermind of the concept of the camp.
The defence pleadings started with Mr. Mohamed Lehbib Rguaibi who addressed all the issues by referring to the report of the Moroccan associations on Akdeim Izik, namely the paragraph entitled “the establishment and the organization of the camp” which speaks about the taboos (the legal situation on the territories).
Mr. Lehbib compared the ruling to three trials in human History in three different periods.
Master Masudi addressed the responsibility of the Moroccan authorities in the events that occurred in Akdeim Izik and in the city in the following days. He stressed that these authorities never ceased encouraging the conflict between the two peoples.
In his opinion, the court will not be able to arrive at a just verdict, as long as there are 4 military jurors and one civilian judge. He maintained that the charges are not legal in accordance with the Military Justice Law, Article 56, thus having violated chapters 56 and 60 of said Law.
The defendants denied all charges against them both before the investigating judge and before this trial judge.
There are witnesses who declared that M. Ennama was arrested on November 7, a testimony contrary to the charges under which M. Ennama has been arrested on the day of the incidents.
As far as the number of deceased persons as noted in the charges is concerned, there would be 15, but the Prosecutor reported 9 persons which is once again a violation of the law. The Prosecutor said that the defendants had run over police officers but without any material evidence; where are the cars involved? «We beg the court to drop the charges», added Master Masudi.
Master Errachedi, defence lawyer, spoke on behalf of the AMDH (Moroccan Association of Human Rights). He recalled that the Moroccan Constitution is being violated before this court because this court has tried civilians.
«All those who believed that the iron years were over are wrong».
The responsibility for all persons’ killings, either of law enforcement officers or of Saharawi civilians lies with the Moroccan authorities.
Master Errachedi said that the dialogue committee was a high level one. He was surprised that M. Ennama Asfari could leave 5 thousand Euros, 10 thousand dollars and 300 thousand Algerian dinars in his tent without any supervision. He therefore concluded that either Enaama is crazy, or the whole argument is a lie. The authorities gave legitimacy to the dialogue during the meetings held with the committee, a committee representative of the Saharawi citizens. He recalled the positions of the two Moroccan politicians, Abderahaim Baoubaid, former Secretary General of UFCP who was imprisoned because he has refused the organization of a referendum in Western Sahara in 1981, and Abrahm Serfati also imprisoned for supporting the SADR.
Two other lawyers requested the court to acquit the defendants since the court has no evidence and arguments to put forward.
A lawyer representing the Forum for Dignity declared that he does not agree with the political beliefs of the defendants but that they are innocent. He added that the Prosecutor did not put forward any arguments. He further said that Morocco is now standing at a crossroads and is being observed under the microscope. This trial is a test that will enable to see how the independence and the legitimacy of the judiciary are treated.
On the other hand, Master Jaiaf of the defence stated that the Prosecutor’s accusations only contain generalities without actually and accurately saying who killed who.
M. El Masaoudi reacted to the photos provided for by the Prosecutor General. The photos were taken from some prisoners during their visits to the Saharawi refugee camps showing them in military uniforms. In his opinion, these are neither evidence nor arguments against the prisoners. These photos prove nothing more than their persistence in their political beliefs.
The Saharawi political prisoners could, in turn, speak a few minutes over these three days.
The trial has ended, February 17, with eight life sentences, four 30-year prison sentences, seven 25-year prison sentences and two sentences to the time already served.
The trial lasted nine days without interruption and the verdict was pronounced by the court martial in the early hours of this morning. The deliberations behind closed doors lasted seven hours.
It is likely that the verdict was rendered this early morning only to prevent demonstrations in front of the court all night, as those which took place throughout the week.
Neither the verdict nor the charges or the parody of the trial have the least sense of reality. All of it was an elaborate stage production, its actual purpose being an attempt to strike the Saharawi resistance against the occupation.
In fact, the Saharawi political prisoners have already spent two years and three months in prison and they denied, on a regular basis, all charges against them before the court and stated that they had been tortured with a view to avoiding their confessions; the judge refused to investigate their statements.
The weapons put forward as a proof of the defendants’ violence bear no trace of the defendants’ fingerprints. The video presentation put forward as being a proof had no distinctive feature by which any of the accused could be readily identified.
The absence of an autopsy of the victims and the absence of DNA tests have been some of the defence’s arguments on the weakness of the other tests.
And as the last lucky find, the king’s prosecutor has put forward as new «strong» evidence against the defendants, old photographs of the defendants with the SADR president.
The defence demonstrated that the real reasons and motivations of the defendants’ arrests lie in their political beliefs and by no means in their implication in the incidents of November 8, 2010.
The verdicts for each of the defendants are as follows:
Sentenced to life:
MOHAMED ELBACHIR BUTENGUISA
Sentenced to 30 years:
Sentenced to 25 years:
MOHAMED LAMIN HADDI
MOHAMED EMBAREK LEFKIR
Sentenced to 20 years:
Sentenced to the time already served:
SIDI ABDERRAHMAN ZAU
Suspended 20-year prison sentence:
El Aaiún, occupied Western Sahara
February 20, 2013