By: Vitalio Angula & Omeima Abdeslam
Thirty Nine political prisoners, amongst them Mahafouda El Fakir (who was released on the 15 May 2020) have found themselves as victims of gross human rights violations by the Moroccan regime.
Their only crime was and remains a demand for the freedom and independence of their homeland, Western Sahara, from Moroccan tyranny.
Andimba Toivo Ya Toivo, who was amongst 61 Namibians jailed at the notorious Robben Island, became an icon of Namibia’s liberation struggle during and after his 16 years of incarceration.
Andimba’s ‘crime’ was to demand for the freedom and independence of Namibia from the illegal occupation of apartheid South Africa.
As the world grapples with the Corona Virus that has since caused the death of over 325 320 people worldwide, there have been renewed calls by the United Nations, Amnesty International and the Polisario Front for the release of the remaining 38 Saharawi political prisoners.
Morocco, the occupying power of Western Sahara, has so far recorded a total of 6 870 positive covid-19 cases with 192 deaths.
The prison population within Morocco has not been spared from this highly contagious disease with Amnesty International reporting on their website (amnesty.org/en/latest/new) that political activist Heba Morayef said “The Moroccan authorities should be prompted by the grim prospect of Covid-19 spreading in prisons to release the dozens of detainees held simply for expressing their views or for exercising their right to protest. These peaceful individuals should never have been imprisoned in the first place.”
Jerry Ekandjo, a renowned anti- apartheid activist and former Robben Island political prisoner describes prison conditions at the infamous island as ‘HELL!’
The outspoken Namibian Liberation Icon was arrested alongside other Namibian youth for holding a SWAPO YOUTH LEAGUE rally on the 12 August 1973 at Katutura.
A total of 300 Namibian youth were arrested.
Jerry Ekandjo, Martin Kapewasha and Fru Nghidinua were charged under Apartheid South Africa’s Sabotage Act for making inflammatory statements at the rally and sentenced to 8 years of imprisonment at Robben Island.
“As prisoners of conscious we were prepared to die for the just cause for which we were fighting which was the freedom and independence of Namibia from South African occupation,” Ekandjo told The Voice.
‘Of the 50 Namibian prisoners who served out sentences at Robben Island less than 30 of us are still alive today,” he noted.
Ekandjo explained that Namibian political prisoners suffered torture at the hands of their captors and as a result many of them still suffer lifelong medical ailments as a result of the beatings.
“The Kingdom of Morocco has been and is committing a gross crime against humanity by arresting and detaining Saharawi freedom fighters that are fighting for the liberation of their homeland,” Ekandjo explained.
“Morocco is part of the African Union (AU) which calls for the total de-colonization of Africa,” Ekandjo added.
“We add our voices in demanding for the immediate release of all Saharawi prisoners being held in Moroccan jails. Morocco has no right to arbitrarily detain our brothers and sisters in Western Sahara and we will continue to engage the international community in bringing an end to Morocco’s illegal occupation of Western Sahara,” Ekandjo proclaimed.
Agay Dahi Hadig Duehi (27) was arrested on the 19 July 2019 as he and other Saharawi youth celebrated Algeria’s 0-1 defeat of Senegal in the African Cup of Nations soccer match.
Born on the 24 December 1993, Agay is the embodiment of the spirit of Saharawi youth who are continuously denied their human rights in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Coming into force on the 23 March 1976, the Covenant of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights declares that “All people’s have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development”.
Celebrating the victory of Algeria over Senegal at the AFCON finals, Agay was practicing his social and cultural rights as a fan of the beautiful game of football.
This was used by the Moroccan regime as an opportunity to harass; arrest and imprison Agay alongside many other Sahawari youth in the occupied capital of El-Ayoun on bogus charges of staging illegal protests; when their only crime was waving the flag of the sovereign state of Western Sahara alongside that of regional ally against the illegal occupation of Morocco, The People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria.
China Global Television Network-Africa (CGTN-Africa) reports that by 29 April 2020 “over 300 Covid-19 cases have been detected at three Moroccan prisons after a campaign of testing of inmates and guards in the country’s 73 jails”.
Confidential sources from within Morocco have informed that two of the six jails holding Western Sahara political prisoners, namely the Jail of Lakser Kebir, Jail of Tanja1, Jail of Warzazate, Jail of Kuneitra, Jail Ras Alma Fas and Jail of Audaya in Marrakech have all reported a spike in covid-19 cases during the past week putting the political prisoners at risk of being infected.
Without the necessary measures to guarantee the healthcare of these prisoners of conscious, the Kingdom of Morocco should heed to the concerns of the Red Cross, Amnesty International and the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Freedom Foundation and release all Saharawi political prisoners being held in Moroccan jails.
The League for the Protection of Saharawi Prisoners has expressed its concern over the treatment of Agay Dahi Hadig Duehi at the hands of prison staff at the local prison in Bouzekaren.
The League has documented how Agay is constantly subjected to harassment and abuse by prison staff.
“At the instigation of prison administration officials, Agay was paraded in front of other inmates at the Bouzekaren prison. He endured verbal abuse as the guards encouraged local Moroccan prisoners to humiliate Agay on the basis of his Western Saharan origin. The ethnic/racial discriminatory practices are some of the human rights violations Agay and other Saharawi have to endure in Moroccan prisons,” reports the League for Protection of Saharawi Prisoners in a 22 April 2020 memo.
Covid-19 is a global emergency, with the world slowly reaching 5 million recorded cases and 325 320 deaths.
Prison populations across the world have been identified as the most vulnerable and at risk groups of contracting the virus.
Article 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights holds that “All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law”.
It further states that “In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
The Kingdom of Morocco ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of the United Nations Commissioner of Human Rights on the 3 May 1979.
This covenant came into force 3 months later on the 2 August 1979.
It is morally reprehensible that Morocco continues to defy international law by its continued illegal occupation of Western Sahara.
It is unacceptable that for 47 years the people of Western Sahara have been denied their right of freedom and independence from Moroccan tyranny.
As the world grapples with the Covid-19 global pandemic it is necessary that the Moroccan authorities release all Saharawi political prisoners being held against their will in order to ensure that they are safe from the devastating harm this virus has caused the world over.
This is in line with Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile”;
Read together with Article 19 that states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.
20 May 2020 marks the 47 anniversary of the Frente-Polisario struggle for independence it is in this light that Namibia stands in solidarity with the people of Western Sahara and calls for their immediate and unconditional release from Moroccan jails.
Vitalio Angula is a socio-political commentator and independent columnist.
Omeima Abdeslam is the Representative of the Frente Polisario to the United Nations and other international organizations in Switzerland.