Sahrawi human rights activist arrested in Morocco

The leading human rights activist, Enaama Asfari has been arrested in Marrakech. His French wife found him in a prison, after a 3 day long disappearance.

Published 25 April 2008

Wednesday 16th of April, it was finally clear that the Sahrawi human rights activist Ennama Asfari had been arrested. Asfari is a friend of the The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara. 

The Support Committee had then tried to get in touch with Asfari for three days, without success. Asfari was supposed to meet two Norwegians in Marrakech. When the Support Committee did not manage to get in touch with him, his French wife, Claude Mangin, initiated a search for him over the phone from Paris. 

Wednesday night, after having been missing for 3 days, she finally found him –in a prison in the tourist city of Marrakech. 

“From Monday I have been calling him every second hour, from 5 in the morning till midnight. But he has still not responded”, his wife Claude Mangin wrote in an email to the Support Committee Wednesday afternoon, while he was still missing. 

He said it worried her, because he had been accessible on phone all the time since he arrived Marrakech from France on January 25th this year.

Family, friends and students in Marrakech had not heard from him since the Sunday. 

“The last person to observe him, was a janitor at the place where he lives. The janitor saw him Sunday night in loud discussion with 5 plain clothed men, who he supposed was from the police”, Mangin wrote to the Support Committee Wednesday afternoon. 

Norwegians waited in vain 
Two Norwegians had travelled to Marrakech to meet among others Asfari. The English speaking Asfari was supposed to help Mr. Viktor Enoksen and Mr. Jim Stensrud Hansen in getting in contact with Sahrawi students at the University of Marrakech.

“The Sahrawi students here in the city have been under attack from the police and Moroccan students for a long time”, Enoksen told on phone from Marrakech Wednesday night. 

“This suppression we wanted to see for ourselves. But we hadn't really expected that out contact ended up in prison before we got to meet a single person here”, Enoksen said to the Support Committee. 

Refused medical care
Wednesday night, it finally succeeded Mangin to talk to her imprisoned husband. He was then in a 30 square meter prison room, with 50 other prisoners. 

“He had insisted on calling me, but they refused him. Had it not been for the fact that he could borrow a mobile phone from one of the other prisoners, we had still not known where he was”, the wife told the Support Committee. 

He was supposedly beaten by the police for 2 days, and told his wife that he still had pain in his face and in one of the legs. But the police refused to give him medical assistance. He had at the time not been told why he had been detained. 

Known human rights defender
When he was finally found, Wednesday 16th of April, a friend of Mangin told the Support Committee that the family would request assistance from French authorities, and from the French consul in Marrakech. They were also to send French lawyers to the country.

Asfari is 38 years old, and had travelled to Morocco to help his family with the family business. His father was disappeared for 16 years, and Naama therefore grew up with his uncle. Since then, he moved to France, where he finished law school, and met his wife. When the father was released from a Moroccan prison in 1991, the mother was already dead. 

Claude and Enaama have been married for 3 years. Together they have founded the human rights organisation CORELSO, who among other things mobilise French lawyers to travel to Morocco to attend trials against Sahrawis. Asfari is a Moroccan citizen, but has for a long time waited to receive French citizenship. 

Enaama Asfari is now in the prison in Boulemharez, Marrakech.


Turbulent weeks for Asfari in Morocco
Asfari's stay has been rather dramatic since he arrived in Morocco January. It is likely that French intelligence has cooperated with their Moroccan colleagues in monitoring his movements. 
As he arrived in Marrakech he was immediately held up by the police. Interestingly, he had not advised any of his contacts in Morocco that he was on his way. Even so, the police was prepared for his arrival when the plane landed. He was held back and interrogated.

He was confronted with numerous questions, and surprisingly a reference to a meeting in the French Parliament on January 22nd. That particular meeting was not public. It was a closed meeting initiated by a member of the French Parliament.

"When Naama told me about the interrogation, we decided to react. The French Member of Parliament wrote a letter to the Head of Parliament, expressing a complaint that French intelligence take the liberty to exchange this type of information with their Moroccan colleagues", Mangin told the Support Committee.

France is Morocco’s closest ally both in the UN and EU.

Last February, a representative for Moroccan intelligence in the occupied Western Sahara approached Asfari in Marrakech, and threatened him. He was told that if he visited the cities El Aaiun or Smara, he could expect 3-4 years in prison. Consequently, Asfari has not done any travelling inside occupied Western Sahara since he arrived in Morocco in January.

A few weeks later Asfari travelled to Rabat in order to take part in a court proceeding against the Sahrawi student Said Bellal (subsequently sentenced to 4 years in prison). The police had anticipated his arrival at the railway station; took him in a waiting car to a police station for lengthy interrogation. He was told that he would not be allowed inside the courtroom. 

Then, Asfari kindly asked if he could be permitted to visit his cousin in Rabat. This demand was rejected. Instead, the police escorted him all the way back to Marrakech. 

When Asfari was detained in April, he had been followed by the intelligence, 24 hours a day, for 3 weeks.

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