2007 Human Rights Watch World Report highlights Moroccan abuses

HRW 2007 World Report29 January 2007.  The new Human Rights Watch World Report for 2007 has drawn attention to Moroccan repression in the territory of Western Sahara under its administration.   The report notes that:
“Controls were particularly tight in the restive and disputed Western Sahara region,
which Morocco administers as if it were part of its national territory.”  Furthermore,  “Police repression of public protests was fiercer in the Western Sahara than elsewhere, and involved a pattern of excessive force against demonstrators, some of whom threw rocks and Molotov cocktails.”

The report also remarked a pattern of unfair trials:

“…in December 2005, a court in El-Ayoun convicted seven Sahrawi human rights activists in connection with the sometimes-violent protests that had broken out sporadically in the region since the previous May. The evidence linking the seven to acts of violence was dubious and in some cases appeared fabricated. Authorities appear to have targeted these Sahrawis because of their human rights activism and outspoken pro-independence views. The seven got prison terms of up to two years but by April all had been released.”

Additionally, the report commented on Moroccan attempts to control the activities of international monitors in the occupied Western Sahara:

“[Moroccan authorities] also generally do not hamper foreign human rights organizations visiting Morocco, and often respond to their letters of concern. However, in the Western Sahara, surveillance is tighter, and harassment of domestic and foreign rights workers more common.”

On the topic of abuses by members of the Moroccan security agencies, Human Rights Watch said,

“Police repression of public protests was fiercer in the Western Sahara than elsewhere, and involved a pattern of excessive force against demonstrators, some of whom threw rocks and Molotov cocktails.”

“Authorities continued to restrict foreign travel for some Sahrawi activists, although such measures have decreased overall in recent years. As of early November, authorities had yet to return the passports they confiscated from nine activists whom they had blocked from travelling to Geneva in 2003 to participate in UN human rights activities.”

The report also described the decline in press freedom affecting Morocco vis-a-vis Western Sahara:

“Media criticism of the authorities is often quite blunt, but is nevertheless circumscribed by a press law that provides prison terms for libel and for expression critical of “Islam, the institution of the monarchy, or the territorial integrity [i.e., the occupation of Western Sahara].” A 2004 law liberalized broadcast media but requires foreign media seeking licenses for stations inside Morocco to “scrupulously respect the values of the monarchy and its heritage in terms of Islam and territorial integrity.” Authorities blocked access to certain pro-Polisario websites, explaining to a visiting UN delegation that they controlled online material to prevent attacks on “territorial integrity.”

“Since mid-2005, a series of prosecutions of independent weeklies, the most outspoken and critical sector of the Moroccan news media, showed the continuing limits on press freedom. Courts convicted at least four weeklies, or their journalists, on criminal charges of libel, publishing “false news,” or “insulting” a foreign head of state, and were trying a fifth for “undermining” the institution of the monarchy. An appeals court on April 18 confirmed a record 3.1 million dirham (US $356,500) libel judgment against Le Journal Hebdomadaire (“The Weekly Journal”). A Brussels-based research institute said Le Journal had defamed it by saying that its report on the Western Sahara was so one-sided that it gave the impression of having been commissioned by the Moroccan government. The weekly said it would have to close if forced to pay the fine.”

Lastly, the report commented on the recent visit of a UN human rights team to the Moroccan controlled Western Sahara:

“The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights dispatched a delegation in May to examine human rights conditions in the Moroccan-administered Western Sahara and the Polisario-administered Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. After negotiating the easing of a tight Moroccan security presence, the delegation was able, in its own words, “to meet with whomever they deemed useful.” It concluded, “The Sahrawi people are not only denied their right to self-determination but equally are severely restricted from exercising a series of other rights, and especially rights of particular importance to the right of self-determination, such as the right to express their views about the issue, to create associations defending their right to self-determination and to hold assemblies to make their views known.”

For more information:  http://asvdh.net/english/?p=153 

Read the full report here: HRW 2007 World Report [external link]

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