Africa Contact strongly condemns the harsh and unjust sentences given February 17 by a Moroccan military court to 24 Saharawis - Western Sahara's indigenous population - just for demanding the right to live in their own country without Moroccan occupation and discrimination
One of the accused, Chaikh Banga, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison, said during the trial: "If my love for my country is considered an offense let the world witness that I am a gangster."
Africa Contact regards this trial as being both immoral and against international law and urges the Moroccan government to unconditionally release the 24 activists, as well as Denmark and the rest of the world to also call for their release.
Several of them have been sentenced to life sentences, merely for having organized a peaceful protest camp outside occupied Western Sahara's capital El Aaiun (Laayoune) in 2010 - the so-called "Gdeim Izik" camp. Many others received prison terms of 20 and 30 years.
The purpose of these harsh sentences is obviously to punish any attempt to challenge Morocco's illegal occupation of Western Sahara, the discrimination against the country's indigenous population, the plundering of Western Sahara's resources, and the gross human rights violations taking place, all matters that continue without the attention of the Western media.
Africa Contact is not alone in its condemnation of the trial. "The trial of civilians before a military court does not meet internationally recognized standards for a fair trial. The 24 accused must be brought before a civilian court with all the human rights guarantees that go along with it, and in no event must anyone be sentenced to death," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa, before the sentences were passed.
“The Moroccan authorities have ignored calls to try the defendants in an independent, impartial civilian court. Instead they have opted for a military court where civilians can never receive a fair trial.” said Ann Harrison, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
“It is disturbing that the authorities have also ignored the Sahrawi defendants’ allegations of torture and coerced confessions.”
“The use of military courts, compounded by the fact that torture allegations have not been investigated, casts a serious doubt on the Moroccan authorities’ intention and whether they were more concerned with securing a guilty verdict than justice”. Said Ann Harrison, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.
The defendants insisted that they had been tortured, including sexual abuse, to make them confess to the charges against them. The judge in refused to investigate these allegations. The defense also substantiated the absence of prisoners' fingerprints, the lack of DNA evidence, and that there was generally no hard evidence against the accused.
All international observers and humanitarian organizations who participated in the trial as observers agreed that the evidence against the Saharawis was flawed. Before the trial started the European Parliament, amongst others, called for the release of the 24 Saharawis.
Africa Contact wishes to send a clear message to the Moroccan authorities that their repeated violations of basic human rights in the occupied territories of Western Sahara cannot be tolerated in a world that almost unanimously claims to believe in the observance of basic human rights.
Morten Nielsen - Head of Secretariat
Africa Contact - Denmark
Blågårdsgade 7B st. th. - DK2200 Copenhagen N - Denmark
Phone: (+45) 35 35 92 32 (AC) or
Mobil: (+45) 25 39 65 57