MEDIA RELEASE A statement from the Melbourne Centre of International PEN

MEDIA RELEASE A statement from the Melbourne Centre of International PEN
15 December 2009

The Melbourne Centre of International PEN is alarmed at the predicament of Aminatou Haidar, Saharawi Human Rights advocate. Haidar is in the fifth week of a hunger strike in Lanzarote Airport in the Canary Islands. She was returning to her home and family in El Aaiun, the main city of West Sahara, when arrested by the Moroccan authorities. Haidar had travelled to New York to receive the Civil Courage award, for her   tireless advocacy as president of the Collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA).

Haidar was detained by Moroccan authorities after she refused to acknowledge Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara. She was interrogated for hours, had her passport confiscated and was deported to the Canary Islands where the Spanish authorities allowed her to enter. She cannot, however, return home or travel without a passport. This was the catalyst for her decision to undertake a hunger strike.

Melbourne PEN joins many other human rights bodies worldwide in urging the Moroccan authorities to return Aminatou Haidar’s passport and allow her to return to her homeland and be reunited with her family. Melbourne PEN also defends her right to continue her efforts to secure peace for her people in Western Sahara. We also call upon the Spanish government to do its utmost to facilitate the return of Haidar to her family and homeland.

Aminatou Haidar – Additional information

Aminatou Haidar is president of the Collective of Saharawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA) and the recipient of many prizes for her work for the promotion of human rights in Western Sahara. Her prizes include the 2007 Silver Rose Award (Austria), the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, and the 2009 Civil Courage Prize. She was also nominated for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize.

A resolution of Mrs. Haidar’s situation is urgently needed both to save her life and to support the peace process underway in Western Sahara.
According to journalist and human rights advocate Stefan Simanowitz, Aminatou Haidar has said in hand-signed letters: ‘“my spirit remains strong but I feel my physical strength is fading fast”. Indeed, she is now unable to stand and the doctor who examined her this week listed her symptoms as hypotension, nausea, anemia, muscular-skeletal atrophy and gastric hemorrhaging.’

For further comment: Arnold Zable, President of the Melbourne Centre of
International PEN. Mobile: 0400080548

International PEN is the leading voice  of literature and represents writers in 101 countries. The Melbourne PEN Centre is one of 145 centres worldwide. Members are united in a common concern for the art of writing and freedom of expression.
PEN was established in England in 1921. Each centre acts independently but maintains strong links with headquarters in London and with other centres. The organization works locally, regionally and internationally to understand the needs of writers and to protect them.
The Melbourne PEN Centre focuses on writers in prison, reconciliation, women writers and international work.