‘My situation is one of imprisonment’ Aminatou Haidar’s return to Laâyoune

TOMÁS BÁRBULO reports  22 December 2009   El Pais – English Edition
Aminatou Haidar’s return to Laâyoune has sparked violence and recrimination
“This neighborhood is closed,” said the policeman. The plain-clothes officer, with dozens of colleagues both in uniform and out, was stationed at the entrance to Bir Jedid street, the home of Aminatou Haidar. At 10am last Saturday, the policemen blocked the passage of Domingo de Guzmán, Haidar’s doctor. An argument ensued, during which Haidar herself appeared, supported by her daughter, Hayat, and another family member.

After 32 days on hunger strike, Haidar returned to Laâyoune last Friday. She was so weak that she had to pause and rest her head on a car to stop herself from collapsing. Then she faced up to the officers. Eventually, they let De Guzmán pass.

Haidar may have secured her return to Western Sahara, but the Moroccan authorities have her under what looks like house arrest. “They only allow family members through,” Haidar told EL PAÍS by telephone. “I have asked the government to take me to jail and give up on this stupid strategy.” Haidar believes this may soon become the status quo when she has recovered. “I think they will stop me from leaving the house.”

It is a stark reminder of the worst days of Hassan II, the father of the current monarch, Mohammed VI. Riot police patrol the streets of the Zemla neighborhood, where Haidar lives. At the airport, Spanish newspapers are confiscated from passengers. If a journalist hails a cab, a policeman appears immediately to ask the driver where he is headed.

While the police blockaded Haidar’s home, on the other side of town, they cordoned off the streets to allow a demonstration of pro-Morocco activists. At 5pm on the same day, around 100 people gathered in the Mechuar square, in front of parliament. They carried images of the king and banners reading “Haidar, traitor,” “Moroccan Sahara,” and “Long live Mohammed VI.”

Rewind to Thursday, December 17. Maalainin Bufosa received a broken nose during celebrations to mark Haidar’s return. Bufosa asked doctors at the hospital for a medical certificate to lodge a complaint against police. The doctors replied that they were under orders to report anybody asking for such a document to the authorities so they could be interrogated. No interrogation, no certificate. No certificate, no complaint. Bufosa simply went home.

The number of people injured that day exceeds 20, according to NGOs. The majority, women and children, suffered bruises, fractures and dislocations. On the advice of doctors, none brought complaints against the police. Many didn’t even bother to go to the hospital.

Some did speak to NGOs, but the police have attempted to silence most of them. Hamad Hamad, an activist, was speaking to journalists on Sunday. The police came and told him that human rights activists needed permission from Rabat to speak to the media. The police ordered the journalists to leave his home with immediate effect.

The pro-independence activists fear that, when the last reporters leave – most have already done so – the police will crack down on them. Djimi El Ghalia, an NGO director, told EL PAÍS: “May the help that Spanish society has shown toward Aminatou Haidar remain alive in favor of the defenders of human rights.

“My situation,” said Haidar in a telephone statement, “is one of imprisonment. The Moroccans want to tell the world that I am alone, that I am isolated, that the Sahara is not with me. But they will not succeed. The Sahrawis are with me. They all think the same as me, but they do not demonstrate because they are scared.”