Saharawi journalists jailed for covering protests and plunder
Four members of an independent Saharawi media group have been detained since 11 February. The charges against them remain unclear, but their coverage of Saharawi protests and Morocco’s natural resources plunder is considered as the prime reason for their detention.
The four were arrested by the Moroccan police in the southern Moroccan town Sidi Ifni, on their way back to Western Sahara after having covered the release of political prisoner Mohamed Amzouz from the local prison of Tiznit, about 50 kilometres further up north in Morocco.
The four Saharawi journalists, who are also known for their human rights advocacy, are now detained in that exact same prison. The families of the four claim that their imprisoned relatives have been tortured and that their prison conditions are inhumane.
The reason for the arrest and subsequent detention are unclear, but Saharawis are adamant that it is connected to their work on covering Saharawi demonstrations for self-determination, in addition to having made several video reports on Morocco's illegal natural resource exploitation in Western Sahara and a recent contribution to BBC Arabic regarding Morocco's involvement in drug trafficking which is said to be connected to powerful people in the Moroccan regime.
The four Saharawi journalists are: Sidi Esbaai, who leads the OSMI group - an independent Saharawi media group constituted in July 2013. Sidi Esbaai is also a member of the El Aaiun branch of the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH) and has participated in different human rights forums in South Africa, Senegal, Algeria ... etc. Esbaai has been arrested and tortured many times before; Mohammed Jamour and Bouamoud Bachir are both members of the OSMI media group and of the El Aaiun branch of AMDH; and Hafiz Toubali, a former Saharawi political prisoner who has been arrested and jailed three times for participating in peaceful demonstrations since 2005.
The Court of First Instance was expected to pronounce itself on their case today, but the hearing was postponed until February 17th 2014.
Africa's last colony
Since 1975, three quarters of the Western Sahara territory has been illegally occupied by Morocco. The original population lives divided between those suffering human rights abuses under the Moroccan occupation and those living in exile in Algerian refugee camps. For more than 40 years, the Saharawi await the fulfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.