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Africa Contact demands that Morocco releases activist Sidahmed Lemjayed and 24 other political prisoners from Sale prison in Morocco

24 October 2013

Last February, Sidahmed Lemjayed was sentenced to life imprisonment for peaceful political activities in Western Sahara – a country which has been occupied by neighbouring Morocco since 1975.

He was sentenced along with 24 others (one of them in absentia). Most of them got terms of more than 25 years imprisonment. Nine of them were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Today Africa Contact launches the ACT NOW to free Sidahmed Lemjayed Campaign.

Although Sidahmed Lemjayed is a civilian, he was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Moroccan military court on February 16, 2013. The charges against him were ‘membership of a criminal gang and deadly violence against members of the Moroccan security forces’ during the raid of the Gdeim Izik protest camp outside El Aaiún in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara - a peaceful protest against the social and economic conditions of the Saharawis (the indigenous population of Western Sahara) living under Moroccan occupation. But the charges were fabricated.

Africa Contact sees Sidahmed and the other 24 prisoners as political prisoners who are being punished for their work to protect the natural resources of Western Sahara against widespread, illegal Moroccan plunder and the widespread exhausting of Western Sahara's natural resources.

Press here to demand the release of Sidahmed Lemjayed and the 24 other Gdeim Izik prisoners

Among the resources, that Morocco illegal exploits from Western Sahara are phosphates, which is important in the fertilizer industry, and fishing off the Atlantic coast (the EU is in the process of renewing a fisheries agreement with Morocco, which will allow fishing vessels from EU-countries to fish in Moroccan waters. According to the agreement, this does not exclude the waters off Western Sahara – although it is legally bound to, according to the UN legal office *).
As the President of the Committee for the Protection of Natural Resources (CSPRON), Sidahmed Lemjayed works against Morocco’s and the EU’s theft of his countries’ natural resources.


“With this campaign, we wish to focus attention on, and demand justice for, not only Sidahmed Lemjayed, but also the other Saharawi political prisoners together with whom he was sentenced. We also wish to send a strong message to the Moroccan government, that the world will not simply stand by while Morocco continues to colonize Western Sahara, brutalize its native population, steal its resources and devastate its environment”, says Africa Contact's Political Chairperson, Mads Barbesgaard.

Apart from Africa Contact, the court case against Lemjayed has been condemned by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN Committee Against Torture, among many others, who all deplored the fact that Sidahmed Lemjayed and his co-accused were tried at a military court. Many MP's, diplomats and individuals – including respected film maker Ken Loach – have also criticized the trial, and there have been protests in front of Moroccan embassies around the world, including a protest in front of the Moroccan Embassy in Copenhagen, arranged by Africa Contact.


According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, the Moroccan authorities often use torture as a means of extracting false confessions from Saharawi (Western Sahara's indigenous population) detainees. The methods of torture include beatings, electroshock, rape and the threat of rape.

Lemjayed and his 24 co-accused were detained and held without trial for two years in the infamous Sale prison in Morocco (anything exceeding one year is illegal according to Moroccan law). Many of them are human rights activists, like Lemjayed, and campaign for an independent Western Sahara and against the extension of the EU-Moroccan Fisheries Agreement.

They all vigorously deny the charges against them; insist that the trial against them was politically motivated, and that they were in effect convicted before the trial even started for having helped to arrange the Gdeim Izik protest-camp. The prisoners have been on several hunger strikes to protest the ill-treatment, torture and awful conditions that they have had to endure whilst in prison.

The Gdeim Izik protest camp was started to protest Moroccan human rights violations, discrimination against the Saharawis and to call for an improved standard of living for the Saharawi people in occupied Western Sahara, and to demand the referendum on the status of Western Sahara that the UN and Morocco have promised the Saharawis for decades.

The reason for choosing the form of a protest camp was that a mass-exodus into the desert near El Aaiún (the capital of Western Sahara) meant that the protestors could avoid the siege-like effect that Moroccan police creates during demonstrations and protest action in the cities and towns of occupied Western Sahara.

Moroccan security forces immediately started harassing the inhabitants of the camp; by intimidating fly-by's of helicopters over the camp, by gradually isolating the camp and thereby cutting of food, water and medicine supplies from the outside world through military blockades and a sand wall. A 14-year-old boy, a passenger in a car approaching one of these blockades, was killed by soldiers who opened fire against the vehicle.

Moroccan security forces raided the camp practically without warning, leaving the between 5000 and 24.000 protesters - depending on who one quotes, the UN says 15.000 - no chance of escape. The security forces used rubber bullets, live ammunition, water cannons, tear gas, truncheons and stones against the protesters. The raid resulted in several deaths, as well as scores of disappearances, mass detaining and torture of Saharawis. There is no proof, that the 25 sentenced were guilty of the deaths.


Morocco observed a strict media blackout before, during and after the raid, and many journalists, politicians and others were arrested and/or were prohibited from coming anywhere near El Aaiún or the site of protest camp, including a group of Spanish journalists and parliamentarians, members of the European Parliament, the President of the Democratic World Federation and several international observers and activists.

The raiding of the camp has been condemned by the African Union, the European Parliament, the South African Government, and the UN Security Council, amongst many others.

*) In 2002 the UN legal office issued a legal opinion on oil exploitation in Western Sahara. The principles for natural resources were clear: If the people of Western Sahara did not benefit from it, and if they did not consent, such operations would be in violation of international law. The Saharawis have not benefited from the agreement, and does not consent to it.

If you want to know more about Sidahmed Lemjayed or the situation in Western Sahara, please contact:

Peter Kenworthy, Afrika Kontakt: +45 3535 9232 or [email protected]
Morten Nielsen, Afrika Kontakt: +45 3535 9232 or [email protected]

This campaign has been prepared in cooperation with Africa Contact’s partner organizations. Sidahmed Lemjayed is the President of the Committee for the Protection of Natural Resources (CSPRON) in Western Sahara, Africa's last colony, which has been occupied by Morocco, since 1975.