UN body asks for immediate release of Saharawi prisoners

Morocco must immediately release a group of leading human rights defenders, UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention demands.  

27 November 2023

The families of the prisoners will hold a digital press conference on 8 December at 12:00 CET.

The press conference is organized by the families, in collaboration with a number of organizations (The League for the Protection of Saharawi Political Prisoners held within Moroccan jails (LPPS), The Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Western Sahara), the families' lawyers, and with the support of international organisations.

Follow the press conference here.

13 years after two dozen Saharawi activists were arrested and subsequently given draconian sentences by a Moroccan court, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has concluded that their detention is illegal. 

The UN document was authored on 11 October 2023, but only quite recently made available.  

Rabat must immediately release the group, which includes journalists and human rights defenders from the Morocco-occupied Western Sahara, the UN body stated. The group was arrested in 2010 as they took part in a demonstration - at the location of Gdeim Izik, in the occupied territory - calling for the socio-economic rights of the Saharawi people.

"The Gdeim Izik prisoners" continue to this day to suffer under inhumane treatment amounting to torture. Read profiles of the individuals of the group here. 

Requesting the release of the prisoners, the UN Working Group pointed to egregious violations such as the denial of their right to access lawyers, confessions extracted under torture, and the court's lack of impartiality and independence, concluding that the prisoners have been arbitrarily deprived of their freedom since their arrest in 2010. The UN Working Group also asked Morocco to ensure reparations and urged the Kingdom to investigate the arbitrary deprivation of liberty and to take action against those responsible. 

One of the prisoners, serving a life sentence, is the Secretary General of the Committee for the Protection of Natural Resources in Western Sahara. 

Welcoming the decision, professor and former President-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group, Mads Andenas, who provides legal counsel to the prisoners, stated, “The decision is an important confirmation of observations already made by numerous trial observers, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, various UN mandate holders and the UN Torture Committee. Knowing Morocco´s vicious trend and worryingly downward spiral of refusing to engage, denying serious violations and subjecting victims and their families to reprisals, we ask all states and third parties to put pressure on Morocco to implement this decision and release the prisoners”.

“We welcome the decision of the UN Working Group confirming the illegal detention of our sons and demand that Morocco immediately release them”, the families of the prisoners commented in a release.

In addition to finding the detention of these activists arbitrary, the UN Working Group expressed its grave concern about the number of alleged cases of arbitrary detention in Western Sahara. The UN Working Group also echoed the concerns already expressed by the UN Committee Against Torture as well as multiple so-called Special Procedures mandate holders on the case of the Gdeim Izik prisoners. 

The UN Torture Committee has already treated and published five decisions concerning Gdeim Izik prisoners Mohammed Bani, Abdeljalil Laaroussi, Naama Asfari, Mohammed Bourial and Sidi Abdallahi Abbahah denouncing torture and usage of confessions signed under torture as the basis for their continued imprisonment.

The prisoners' families will hold a virtual press conference on 8 December at 12:00 CET. Along with the families, the conference is organized with the League for the Protection of Saharawi Political Prisoners held within Moroccan jails (LPPS), the Geneva Support Group for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Western Sahara, their legal counsels and with support from international organisations.


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