Two Norwegian trial observers deported from Western Sahara
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Two international observers accredited by the Norway-based Rafto Foundation for Human Rights were today prevented from entering El Aaiún, Western Sahara.
Published 19 May 19

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The two Norwegian observers were intending to attend the trail of Saharawi journalist Ms. Nazha El Khalidi on 20 May 2019, but were prevented from carrying out their work as international trial observers.

Amnesty International this week called on Morocco to ”drop all charges” against Nazha, whilst Human Rights Watch accused Morocco of misusing the law in order to silence reporters.

The Moroccan police officers informed the observers that in order to enter El Aaiún, observers needed to have an official accreditation from the Moroccan Ministry of Justice.

Five Spanish lawyers accredited by the Spanish organization Aprase was similarly trying to enter El Aaiún airport at the same time in order to attend the trial of Nazha El Khalidi, but were also prevented access to the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara, on the same basis.

The two observers, Mr. Vegard Fosso Smievoll and Ms. Kjersti Brevik Møller, arrived at El Aaiún airport today at 12:15 local time. At the airport passport control, the observers were interrogated about their reason for travelling. The observers informed that they were travelling to El Aaiún in order to attend the trial of Nazha on behalf of the Rafto Foundation.

The police officers asked several questions in relation to their accreditation from Rafto Foundation. Around 13:00, the two were informed they were allowed to enter El Aaiún. However, the police still kept their passports, and the observers were informed to wait. At 14:00, the two observers were told that they were not allowed to enter El Aaiún after all, and that they needed to have a written approval from the Moroccan government. The officers refused to elaborate on the legal basis for the deportation, and refused to give them a written justification, neither in English nor in French. The observers were told to wait in the airport entry hall, until the next plane leaving in five hours. The observers are currently surrounded by 14 police officers, and obliged to wait for five hours in a closed down area.

The case of El Khalidi’s trial is not merely a case of reprisals for journalistic work, but one of principles, relating to the Saharawi people’s own coverage of the human rights situation in the non-self-governing territory. The criminal charges brought against Ms. El Khalidi and the national legislation in which they are based is therefore not only in violation of Article 19 of the ICCPR. Ms. El Khalidi is also facing threats of imprisonment as a result of and in reprisal to her work as a Saharawi journalist and as a Saharawi human rights defender.

Ms. Nazha El Khalidi was first arrested 4 December 2018 on the main avenue in El Aaiún, Western Sahara when she was live-streaming a demonstration on Facebook. El Khalidi was released the same day without being charged. On 4 March 2019, Ms. Nazha Khalidi was arrested in her house in El Aaiún, Western Sahara, and brought to the police station where she was interrogated about her media activities. On 6 March, she was charged with claiming to be associated with a profession (“Journalism”) that is regulated by law without meeting the necessary conditions to use it, pursuant to Article 381 of the Moroccan Penal Code. This is the first time a Saharawi journalist has been charged under this Article.

Based on these charges, Ms. Khalidi was summoned to appear in front of the Court of First Instance in El Aaiún on 18 March 2019. The proceedings were the same date postponed until 20 May. The case of Ms. El Khalidi is expected to commence on 20 May 2019 in front of the Court of First Instance in El Aaiún, in which the two Norwegian observers were planning on attending.

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