The situation for the 19 Saharawi political prisoners known as the 'Gdeim Izik group' is increasingly worrisome.
Tone Moe, who functioned as an international observer at the Gdeim Izik-trial in Rabat from December 2016 to July 2017, has today written a report on what has happened with the group of Saharawis since they were sentenced to severe prison terms on 19 July.
The Gdeim Izik prisoners consist of 19 Saharawi men, all human rights activists/defenders and journalists, openly advocating for the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, a non-self-governing territory under partial occupation by Morocco.
Moe's report is based on information retrieved from the families of the prisoners. The report describes that the prisoners around 3 AM on the morning of 16 September 2017, were forcibly, and without prior warning, transferred to six different prisons in Morocco.
The prisoners have been held in prolonged solitary confinement since their transfer in September, and have undergone multiple hunger strikes. Two of the prisoners on hunger strike (Brahim Ismaili and Hassan Eddah) allegedly started on 24 November 2017 to vomit blood, and their situation is currently critical.
Download the report here.
Tone Moe states to the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara that "the situation of this group is today alarming".
"The prisoners are held in prolonged solitary confinement, and are constantly being harassed by the prison guards and intimidated by the prison administration", she stated.
The report reiterates the words of the UN Special Rapporteur Juan Méndez, which in his report upon the usage of solitary confinement stated that "prolonged solitary confinement is cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and may amount to torture".
Tone Moe states that "the usage of solitary confinement can lead to irreparable health problems when it exceeds 15 days. This group have now been held in solitary confinement for 72 days. The prisoners was deprived of all their belongings, and some of them reportedly slept on the concrete floors of their cells, wearing the clothes they were forcibly transferred in for weeks, before their belongings was returned."
“To deprive them of social contact, and of contact with the outside world, is in my view the definition of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and is under no circumstances justified. It should be noted that the length of the isolation varies from prisons to prisons, and three of the men are currently kept isolated from the rest of the group, imprisoned in Morocco all alone, far from their families”, she stated.
Four of the prisoners are currently undertaking an open hunger strike. The prisoners are demanding to be relocated to a prison together, located in Western Sahara in accordance with humanitarian law, to be treated as political prisoners, and to have the right to study. They also protest the inhumane treatment and systematic harassment, and intimidation from the Prison Administration.
Tone Moe states that “to hold these Saharawi prisoners in Moroccan jails on Moroccan territory, is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, let alone human rights and human dignity. Faced with a prolonged prison sentence, the fact that these Sahrawi activist felt that they had no other avenue available to them but to starve themselves in protest is a terrible indictment of the continued repression of political activist from Western Sahara.”
The Group of political prisoners is named after the famous protest camp Gdeim Izik, as the prisoners were arrested prior to, during and after the dismantlement of the protest camp in 2010. The members of the group were charged with the forming of a criminal organization, and the murder of 11 members of the civil forces that died during the violent dismantlement of the protest camp. The Group was Condemned by the Military Court of Rabat in 2013.
The verdict was found null and void by the Constitutional Court in 2016, and the case was referred to the Appeal Court of Salé where the proceedings commenced on the 26th of December 2016. The prisoners were during the court case and up until the 16th of September imprisoned together as a group in the prison of El Arjat in Rabat, Morocco. The final decision fell in July 2017 - read all about that trial in a report from Moe.
Morocco illegally occupied parts of Western Sahara in 1975.
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