Alert: Western Sahara – Arrest and Torture of Young Sahrawi Protestors in El-Ayoune

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Islamic Human Rights Commission
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16 April 2008

Alert: Western Sahara – Arrest and Torture of Young Sahrawi Protestors in El-Ayoune

1. Summary
2. Background
3. Action required
4. Sample letters

1. Summary

On 27 March 2008, Mohamed Bachiri Bullahi, age 18, was arrested along with several other youths following a sit-in demonstration in the Almatar district of El-Ayoune, calling for the right of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. Following his arrest, Bullahi was interrogated and tortured for 4 hours at the El-Ayoune district police headquarters before being released after midnight.

Reportedly, the sit-in lasted only minutes before being violently dispersed by the police. The event was thereafter followed by a wave of arrests on protesters.

According to Bullahi’s own testimony, plainclothes police officers arrested him and several other protesters after they hid in a house following the dispersal. Thereafter, he was severely beaten by police officers during the car-ride to the El-Ayoune police headquarters. At the police station, he spent the remainder of his 4 hours in police custody being interrogated and tortured. He was suspended in the air, with his hands and feet tied, and beaten on his feet, while being interrogated about his involvement in the demonstration. Bullahi fearfully denied any involvement. Allegedly, police officers further forced a dirty rag down his throat, another on his face, and poured a mixture of urine and water on his face, continuing to question his involvement in the demonstration. Bullahi was released with several other youth, whom he believed were also involved in the demonstration, just after midnight the same day.

2. Background

Since Spain’s withdrawal as a colonial authority from Western Sahara in 1975, the region has been plagued by human rights abuses and violence. The Moroccan government proposes that Western Sahara become an autonomous region of Morocco, while ethnic Sahrawis generally want independence. The only states in support of Morocco’s rule over Western Sahara are France and the United States.

Following a guerilla war for independence which lasted till 1991, tens of thousands of Sahrawis were displaced, creating roughly 100,000 refugees to date. Sahrawi groups accused the Moroccan authorities of committing war crimes, and Sahrawi organisations, in addition to the UNHCHR (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) Amnesty International and HRW (Human Rights Watch) have reported extensively on the human rights violations committed by the Moroccan authorities on Sahrawi human rights activists and citizens. Some reports allege the forced disappearance of some 1,500 Sahrawi sympathisers, in addition to numerous reports of widespread campaigns of arrests and torture. More recently, November 2007 saw a dramatic wave of arrests which focused on Sahrawi youths. Reports also suggest a frequent routine of arrest, interrogation and torture for several hours, followed by release.

3. Action required
a) Write to the Moroccan Ambassador in your country, urging him/her to ensure that El-Ayoune police officers end their heavy-handed approach of arresting and torturing peaceful Sahrawi demonstrators.

UK campaigners can write to:

HE Mr Mohammed Belmahi
Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco
49 Queen\’s Gate Gardens
London SW7 5NE

b) Write to the Interior Minister of Morocco, Mr Chakib Benmoussa, urging him to ensure that El-Ayoune police officers end their heavy-handed approach of arresting and torturing peaceful Sahrawi demonstrators.

Ministre de l\’Intérieur
M. Chakib BENMOUSSA
Ministère de l\’Intérieur
Quartier Administratif, Rabat, Morocco

4. Sample letters
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A sample letter is given below for your convenience. Please note that model letters can be sent directly or adjusted as necessary to include further details. If you receive a reply to the letter you send, we request you to send a copy of the letter you sent and the reply you received to IHRC. This is extremely important as it helps IHRC to monitor the situation with regards to our campaigns and to improve upon the current model letters.

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Sample letter to the Moroccan Ambassador in your country (UK campaigners can use the address supplied)

[Your Name]
[Your Address]

[Date]

HE Mr Mohammed Belmahi
Embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco
49 Queen\’s Gate Gardens
London SW7 5NE

Dear Mr Mohammed Belmahi,

Re: Arrest and Torture of Young Sahrawi Protestor in El-Ayoune

I am very concerned about the detention and torture of Mr Mohamed Bachiri Bullahi, aged 18, and several other young Sahrawi demonstrators in El-Ayoune on 27 March 2008. They were participating in a peaceful demonstration calling for the right of self-determination for the Sahrawi people when the police violently dispersed the gathering and arrested them.

Mr Bullahi was severely beaten and tortured during the car-ride to the El-Ayoune police headquarters, and during interrogation at the headquarters. Allegedly, police officers also forced a dirty rag down his throat, another on his face, and poured a mixture of urine and water on his face, continuing to question his involvement in the demonstration. Bullahi fearfully denied any involvement. He was released with several other youth just after midnight the same day.

I request you to urge your government to launch an investigation into the above-mentioned incident and to fully compensate Mr Bullahi and the other Sahrawi youth who were detained and tortured. Please ensure that this heavy-handed approach of arresting and torturing peaceful Sahrawi demonstrators is brought to an end.

I also request you to ensure that the Sahrawi people are given equal rights to other Moroccan citizens and that their right to freedom of speech and association is fully respected.

I look forward to hearing back from you soon regarding this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely,

[Your Signature]
[Your Name]

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Sample letter to Mr Chakib Benmoussa

[Your Name]
[Your Address]

[Date]

Ministre de l\’Intérieur
M. Chakib BENMOUSSA
Ministère de l\’Intérieur
Quartier Administratif, Rabat, Morocco

Dear Mr Chakib Benmoussa,

Re: Arrest and Torture of Young Sahrawi Protestor in El-Ayoune

I am very concerned about the detention and torture of Mr Mohamed Bachiri Bullahi, aged 18, and several other young Sahrawi demonstrators in El-Ayoune on 27 March 2008. They were participating in a peaceful demonstration calling for the right of self-determination for the Sahrawi people when the police violently dispersed the gathering and arrested them.

Mr Bullahi was severely beaten and tortured during the car-ride to the El-Ayoune police headquarters, and during interrogation at the headquarters. Allegedly, police officers also forced a dirty rag down his throat, another on his face, and poured a mixture of urine and water on his face, continuing to question his involvement in the demonstration. Bullahi fearfully denied any involvement. He was released with several other youth just after midnight the same day.

I request you to urge your government to launch an investigation into the above-mentioned incident and to fully compensate Mr Bullahi and the other Sahrawi youth who were detained and tortured. Please ensure that this heavy-handed approach of arresting and torturing peaceful Sahrawi demonstrators is brought to an end.

I also request you to ensure that the Sahrawi people are given equal rights to other Moroccan citizens and that their right to freedom of speech and association is fully respected.

I look forward to hearing back from you soon regarding this urgent matter.

Yours sincerely,

[Your Signature]
[Your Name]

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For more information, please contact the office on the numbers or email below:

Islamic Human Rights Commission
PO Box 598
Wembley
HA9 7XH
United Kingdom

Telephone (+44) 20 8904 4222
Fax (+44) 20 8904 5183
Email: info@ihrc.org
Web: www.ihrc.org
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Islamic Human Rights Commission
PO Box 598
Wembley
HA9 7XH
United Kingdom

Telephone (+44) 20 8904 4222
Fax (+44) 20 8904 5183
Email: info@ihrc.org
Web: www.ihrc.org