Disappeared Saharawi prisoner reappeared, still in isolation

The political prisoner Elhafed Iaazza is no longer missing in jail, but remains in total isolation, on the 10th week. “I will kill you”, prison director told him today. 

Published 23 December 2020

The Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara on 2 November told the story about the Saharawi political prisoner Yahya Mohamed Elhafed Iaazza who had for weeks been missing in jail, after he had shared a cell with a covid-19-patient.  

Only after 8 weeks with total isolation from the outside world, was Elhafed allowed to call his family. Reportedly, Elhafed Iaazza had been allowed to do so after increased international pressure, with Front Line Defenders issuing an urgent appeal into his alarming situation. Elhafed was in 2008 tried and sentenced to 15 years by a Moroccan court. 

Despite international pressure, the situation of Elhafed Iaazza remains alarming, with the only thing having changed is the fact that he is now allowed to use the phone three times a week for a couple of minutes. These trips to the prison phone is also the only time when Yahya is allowed to leave his cell. He has not been allowed to go outside, breathe fresh air or to see the sun for 10 weeks and counting. Due to this, the situation of Yahya is quickly deteriorating, with Yahya still being alarmingly sick and in tremendous pain..

Today, he called his daughter, Fatou Yahya, and told her that he had been visited by the prison director in his isolation cell. The prison director had carried out an aggressive search and deprived him of his TV and radio. Despite being critically sick, the prison director told that he wouldn’t grant Yahya any form of medical treatment, before the prison director said to Yahya, “I will kill you”.  

On 9 October, a prisoner suffering from covid-19 had been placed together with him in his small cell, where they both spent over 24 hours in close proximity. On October 13th, Elhafed Iaazza was purportedly taken to an isolation cell in Bouzairkarn prison, located in the South of Morocco, and lost contact with the outside world for the following eight weeks.  

The placement of Elhafed Iaazza together with a prisoner having covid-19 is by the family and Yahya himself believed to have come in response to an argument Yahya had with the prison director of Bouzairkarn prison on 9 October, when Yahya refused to be transferred to an overcrowded cell holding over 20 prisoners known to be dangerous. When he refused, the prison director said to Yahya that he would be taken to a place where «no one knows where is».  

“My father is always strong when he talks to me. He is the strongest man I know. But right now, I cannot imagine the pain that he is currently living under. I can hear in his voice how sick he is”, the daughter of the Saharawi political prisoner, Fatou Yahya, told the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.  

For over 10 weeks, Elhafed Iaazza has now been held in complete isolation. Upon transferral on 13 October, he was deprived of most of his belongings and he was forced to eat «prison food», often containing mould, bugs, glass, dirt etc. Due to this, the health condition of Elhafed Iaazza has dramatically worsened during the time spent in complete isolation. From prior, Elhafed Iaazza suffers from asthma, rheumatism and kidney disease. To be forced to eat the prison food has therefore left Yahya in incredible pain, with the isolation cell reported to be extremely dirty; seriously aggravating his asthma. The lack of movement and the prohibition of entering outside to see the sun, has also seriously aggravated his rheumatism. 

“In light of the circumstances of the case, with the prison director placing Elhafed Iaazza under complete isolation as punishment, causing tremendous physical and mental suffering, the situation may amount to continuous torture. The situation is further aggravated by the fact that Elhafed Iaazza is in an alarming health condition, with the prison director outright threatening to kill him”, said Tone Sørfonn Moe, the international legal representative. 

The UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture, Manfred Nowak and Juan Méndez have both stated that “prolonged solitary confinement is cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and may amount to torture". Nowak and Méndez have been especially critical to long-term or prolonged solitary confinement, which they define as lasting fifteen days or more. Méndez found that solitary confinement when used for the purpose of punishment cannot be justified, and reiterated that “any imposition of solitary confinement beyond 15 days constitutes torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, depending on the circumstances.”  

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