Western Sahara: Moroccan Authorities Urged to Free Sahrawi Journalist On Hunger Strike

A map showing Western Sahara and Morocco.
press release

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issues an urgent appeal to the Moroccan authorities to free Mohamed Lamin Haddi, a Sahrawi journalist whose physical condition is extremely worrying, after 78 days on hunger strike, and who is now being force-fed. The principle of humanity must prevail, RSF says.

Both Haddi's health and the conditions in which he is being held in Rabat's Tiflet prison are very concerning. Detained since November 2010 and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2013, Haddi worked for RASD TV, a TV channel run by the Polisario Front, which proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic in Western Sahara in 1976 and which disputes Morocco's control over most of this "non-self-governing territory."

Haddi began an indefinite hunger strike on 13 January to draw attention to the mistreatment to which he is being subjected, and has been force-fed by means of a nasogastric tube since last week. When he managed to call his mother on 24 March, he told her he had lost all sensation in half of his body.

Haddi's family struggle to get information about him because the Moroccan authorities deny his right to family visits. Having received no news of him for a month, his mother went to Tiflet prison on 3 March and, after being unable to see her son, was arrested by the police in response to a complaint by the prison's governor, who accused her of creating a disturbance at the entrance.

"The mistreatment of Mohamed Lamin Haddi has continued for too long," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. "It is time to end the torture and rescue this journalist from the hunger strike he has been following for more than two months and from the oblivion to which he has been consigned by a 30-year-old conflict. The principle of humanity must prevail over territorial issues. Jailed ten years ago on a spurious charge, he is now in danger of dying and must be released without delay. We issue an urgent appeal to the Moroccan authorities to end his ordeal."

Haddi, who is also a member of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State (ASVDH), was arrested on 20 November 2010, two weeks after covering the use of force by the Moroccan authorities to dismantle the Gdeim Izik protest camp, 12 km outside Laayoune, Western Sahara's biggest city.

Tried by military court along with a score of Sahrawi activists, Haddi was sentenced to 25 years in prison in February 2013 on a charge of "violence with intent to kill officials carrying out their duties." An international observer said he was denied the right to due process and described the trial as a "wretched spectacle." Despite the lack of evidence, his sentence was confirmed on appeal by a court in Salé in July 2017 and by Morocco's highest court in November 2020.

The Gdeim Izik camp was established in October 2010 to protest against the appalling social and economic conditions in Western Sahara, which Morocco annexed in 1975 and which the Polisario Front continues to claim as an independent country. Since last year, the disputed territory has seen an increase in military tension between Morocco and Sahrawi independence forces.

Morocco is ranked 133rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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