Since 1 April, two Saharawi political prisoners have been on hunger strike, in protest of the deplorable conditions they are living under.
Photo above: the judgments of the Gdeim Izik group were all based on confessions extracted under torture.
For nearly 12 years, a group of Saharawi political prisoners have been held in arbitrary detention in Moroccan prisons.
Protesting their long-term arbitrary detention and demanding to be transferred to a prison in Western Sahara, the Gdeim Izik prisoners Hassan Eddah and Hussein Ezzaoui commenced an open hunger strike on 1 April 2022.
The health of the two is reportedly deteriorating quickly; believed to be linked to the prisoners already serious health condition after nearly 12 years of medical neglect and inhumane living conditions as well as the effects of torture and scars from past hunger strikes.
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On 12 and 13 April, the rest of the group that they are part of, held in prisons in Kenitra, Ait Melloul, Bouzairkarn and Tifelt, joined in on a limited hunger strike for 48-hours in support of the two, also protesting their inhumane living conditions and their continued arbitrary detention.
The group of prisoners - the socalled Gdeim Izik prisoners - was arbitrarily arrested, tortured, tried and handed long sentences following an extraordinary month-long protest camp known as Gdeim Izik in 2010 against the Moroccan occupation by thousands of Sahrawi civilians.
Three years later, in 2013, they were brought in front of a Military Court that sentenced them to harsh prison sentences. These were to a large extent confirmed by a civilian court in 2017, before the lengthy prison sentences were upheld by the Moroccan Court of Cassation in November 2020.
Download a report on the case of the Gdeim Izik prisoners, including the situation until 2022.
Awaiting the decision of the Court of Cassation of November 2020, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Morocco to ensure a retrial for the 19 defendants, decrying the breach of due process and a trial marred by torture allegations. Despite international criticism, the Court of Cassation upheld the lengthy prison sentences, with the US State Department commenting in their newly published Country Report that “while the government’s stated aim in creating the council was to improve judicial independence, there was limited progress in that regard since its inception as an independent entity in 2017. Human rights activists alleged trials in cases involving […] Western Sahara, sometimes appeared politicized”.
The situation of the Gdeim Izik prisoners swiftly changed to the worse following the decision rendered by the Appeals Court in 2017, with the prisoners being dispersed into six different prisons, reporting both physical and psychological torture, harassment, and increased isolation. The situation has remained alarming ever since. Only 15 March 2022, news were again received that imprisoned Saharawi journalist Mohammed Lamin Haddi had been subjected to torture. The incident was reported by ACAT France, informing that Mohammed Lamin, in response to having declared his intention to initiate an open hunger strike, had been beaten severely whilst handcuffed, had his hair pulled from his beard with pliers and subjected to choking.
"My first encounter with Western Sahara, political prisoners and torture was the Gdeim Izik trial. I didn’t think it could get any worse than being deprived of one’s liberty for 7 years, with a court completely ignoring alarming torture allegations. I was sadly wrong", the Norwegian jurist Tone Sørfonn Moe noted, having followed the trial of the Gdeim Izik prisoners in 2017, states.
"For 4,5 years we have been standing on the sideline witnessing the prisoners being subject to physical and psychological violence, isolation, harassments, and threats; amounting to a daily life of torture. In sheer despair, the prisoners have undertaken one hunger strike after the other, without their situation improving and with the Kingdom of Morocco denying their very existence. It’s crucial that we act to save the lives of this group of imprisoned activists from Western Sahara”, Moe stated.
Having visited the Gdeim Izik prisoners in 2013, former Chair Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, professor Mads Andenas, recalls that, “during the visit, the Gdeim Izik prisoners informed of torture and ill-treatment, and we observed the deteriorating health conditions of some of the detainees due to the prison conditions. We also received information that several of the detainees in the Gdeim Izik group started hunger strikes, and that their health conditions were further deteriorating. Their life is now in more danger than ever before, and it is urgent that they are released from arbitrary detention”.
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