Imprisoned student on hunger strike
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The Saharawi student activist Mohammed Layichi has been on hunger strike for almost a month. 

Published 09 June 2022

UPDATE, 29 June 2022: After having been on a hunger strike for almost a month, the Saharawi student activist Mohammed Layichi ended his hunger strike on 10 June 2022. The appeal trial of the two students suddenly commenced on 15 June. According to friends and family, both Mohammed and Hassan appeared in court by video call and informs that neither of the student defenders had been informed of the commencement of their appeal in advance. The appeal proceeding was postponed the same day to 22 June and later to 29 June.

 

In protest of his arbitrary detention and inhuman prison conditions, the well-known Saharawi student activist Mohammed Layichi started on an open hunger strike on 13 May. This hunger strike continues to this day. Layichi was arrested on 25 April 2022 arrested at the student campus in Agadir together with fellow student activist Hassan Alloud.

Mr. Layichi is demanding a) improvement of his current inhuman prison conditions with the right to transferal to a different block in the prison; b) the right to study and right to medical treatment; c) the right to a fair trial. When commencing the hunger strike, the prison director of Ait Melloul reportedly threatened him, “If you don’t stop your hunger strike, I will make you a target to the rest of the prisoners”.

As punishment for having written Saharawi slogans on the wall of his cell, Mr. Layichi was on 23 May sent to an isolation cell for 10 days. At that time, he had already spent 10 days in complete isolation as punishment for his ongoing hunger strike. Due to this, he is not only deprived of contact with the outside world but also all form of medical treatment whilst undergoing the strike. 

Consequently, and from 16 May until 2 June, the family did not hear from him. On 2 June, and in a phone call that lasted only 27 seconds, the family learned that he had started to vomit blood and had difficulty standing. 

Mohammed Layichi, born in 1998, is a prominent figure in the Saharawi student movement and a public spokesperson known for his support for the right to self-determination, his efforts for justice for Abdel Rahim Badri, a young student who was killed in 2018, and his advocacy work in relation to the trials of the so-called 'Student Group'. Similar to Mohammed, Hassan Alloud, born in 1993, is also a well-known Saharawi student activist connected to the student movement in Agadir, having also advocated for years for justice for Badri and the release of the imprisoned students. 

On 24 May, and as punishment for their student and human rights activism, Mr. Layichi was sentenced to one year in prison and Alloud was sentenced to eight months.The trumped-up reason used for the arrest and imprisonment of the two activists is possession of weapons. However, the real reason for their arrest remains their student activism as Saharawi students, friends and family asserts. 

The trial commenced on 29 April, and a verdict was finally rendered on 24 May following three postponements. According to friends and family, the families of the two student activists were barred from entering the courthouse and friends protesting outside the courtroom were brutally attacked by Moroccan police standing guard. 

According to friends, traces of torture could be witnessed on the bodies of the accused and the presiding judge refused to order a medical examination into the allegations of torture despite requests presented by the defense. According to friends and family, no pieces of material evidence were presented against the accused. 

The arrest of the two activists is believed to be linked to a wider crackdown on the Saharawi student movement. From before, seven Saharawi students remain imprisoned in Moroccan jails. This includes four members of the so-called Student Group/Group of El Wali who were arrested in 2016, with four of its members being handed heavy prison sentences of 10 years imprisonment (Abelmoula El Hafidi, Elkantawi Elbeur, Mohammed Dadda and Aziz El Ouahidi). The imprisonment of the Student Group has been found arbitrary by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The UN Working Group continues to call for the immediate release of the students, in which the Kingdom of Morocco continues to ignore. 

A fifth student (Hussein) was in January 2019, in Spain, applying for asylum, forcibly transferred back to the Kingdom of Morocco, where he would be sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison. The case of Hussein Bachir Brahim is closely linked to the case of the Student Group, and his arrest and imprisonment received stark critique by the UN Special Rapporteurs, including the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders Ms. Mary Lawlor. 

In September 2022, three students would also be arrested, facing trumped up charges with the chaos of the Moroccan elections being used as a reason to arrest them. The arrest of Hamza Bouhriga, Jamal Arouch and Jalal Bouchaab received stark critique from local human rights organizations and Front Line Defenders. Hamza and Jalal have been released from prison, with Jamal expected to be released in December 2022.

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