Pressure is intensifying on journalists in occupied Western Sahara. Yesterday evening, Moroccan authorities crashed and harassed a wedding party between two journalist colleagues.
Pictures above show the outside of the house of journalist Nazha El Khalidi, yesterday, at the day of her wedding.
It is increasingly difficult for local Saharawi journalists to report on the situation in Western Sahara.
The latest crackdown on Saharawi journalists occurred yesterday evening, 21 November 2020, when the Moroccan police forces obstructed the wedding of two prominent Saharawi human rights defenders and journalists – Nazha El Khalidi and Ahmed Ettanji – both belonging to the Saharawi journalist organization Equipe Media. Ahmed serves as the president of the journalist group,
The two colleagues have for years reported on the repression in the occupied territories at great risk to their own personal safety. The persecution of Nazha has been documented by the UN Special Procedures in two separate joint communications rendered, with the latest act of reprisal against her being highlighted in the reports of the United Nations Secretary-General on reprisals (A/HRC/42/30).
According to the couple, the wedding celebrations were violently interrupted by the Moroccan forces. At the house where the wedding celebration took place, the Moroccan forces cut the electricity and barred the doors from the outside. When the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara was in contact with people on the ground at 21:30 in the evening of 21 November, the guests attending the celebration were not able to leave the house, which was surrounded by the police.
Nazha el-Khalidi, as per Sahrawi tradition, spent the evening in a different house. That house was also attacked and surrounded by the Moroccan police.
As the Support Committee was in contact with her yesterday evening, the bride was not allowed to leave, while some of her family, including two children age three and one, were outside the house prevented from entering.
Later in the evening, the two activists were able to meet, but their houses continued to be placed under surveillance by the Moroccan police. As of 22 November at 13:30 in the afternoon, it was reported that police were still surrounding the house of both Nazha and Ahmed, preventing people from leaving and entering the houses. The police has given contradictory statements that they are taking these actions due to COVID-19 and because of a judicial order issued by the king's prosecutor.
This is not the first attack on journalists in Western Sahara this week.
On 16 November, reports were also received that the police raided the homes of two Sahrawi journalists, Mohammed Haddi and Cherif Bakhil, from the media collective Nushatta Foundation. They were reportedly able to flee and they, as well as other journalists from Nushatta, have gone into hiding. In the past years, media activists from Nushatta have reported being followed and monitored, and several have been arrested. On May 15 2020, photographer Ibrahim Mrikli was arbitrarily detained in El Aaiún by agents in plainclothes and accused of, among other things, "insulting public servants" and "violating quarantine regulations". An urgent appeal from Front Line Defenders stated that the arrest was "in direct reprisal for his peaceful and legitimate human rights work, documenting violations in Western Sahara".
Equipe Media has reported similar harassment, intimidations, threats and arrest in response to their reporting on human rights violations. Members of Equipe Media, colleages of the new-weds, continue until this day to be imprisoned under heavy prison sentences.
On 13 November, a 29-year-long ceasefire between the Kingdom of Morocco and the liberation movement Polisario Front, came to an end. With the escalation of war between Morocco and Polisario, we have witnessed fierce repression in the occupied territories of Western Sahara. For decades, Morocco has tried to ensure that there are no international witnesses to its human rights violations in Western Sahara. With the actions of Morocco acting increasingly under impunity; a human rights gap have been created. Sahrawis who try to fill this void, including citizen journalists and human rights defenders, are particularly targeted for harassment, arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has on several occasions documented the systematic persecution and political prosecution of Saharawi journalist and human rights defenders in response to their support for the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. In all decisions, the Working Group found that the detention of Saharawi journalists constitute a violation of Morocco’s international obligations to not politically prosecute or discriminate.
Due to the criminalization on independent reporting on the Western Sahara issue, Saharawi journalists work under alarming conditions; without any real means of protection; whilst systematically being faced with trumped up charges and subjected to arbitrary detention. The detainment of the four Gdeim Izik journalists, El Bachir Khadda, Hassan Dah, Abdellah Lakhfawni and Mohammed Lamin Haddi, in addition to the continued detention of Mohamed al-Bambary, Walid El Batal and Khatri Dadda serves as vicious examples of this practice; aimed at silencing the once trying to break the current culture of impunity imposed on the occupied territories of Western Sahara.
Earlier this week, the Support Committee issued a public appeal for action detailing the events of the last week
Two well-known Saharawi student activists were this week arrested in Agadir. A trial is expected to start today.
Since 1 April, two Saharawi political prisoners have been on hunger strike, in protest of the deplorable conditions they are living under.
So far, Yahya Mohamed Elhafed Iaazza has spent 14 years in Moroccan jails.