UN body requests Morocco to immediately release Western Sahara journalist
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In a recent published decision of 1 April 2024, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention requested the immediate release of the young Saharawi journalist Khatri Dadda.

Published 05 April 2024

Khatri Dadda is a 25-year-old journalist belonging to Salwan Media, a group of Saharawi media activists located in the city of Smara, in occupied Western Sahara. Arrested 24 December 2019, he was later sentenced to 20 years in prison as punishment for his journalistic and human rights work. 

The UN Working Group published its demand to the Moroccan government on 1 April 2024 (A/HRC/WGAD/2023/67).

The continued imprisonment of Dadda has been the subject of numerous communications issued by UN experts denouncing concerns of inhumane prison conditions and continued detention of activists in response to their human rights work (see communication of 21 July 2020, of 16 June 2021 and 23 May 2023). 

Welcoming the decision from the UN working group, president of the Western Sahara based media collective Equipe Media, Ahmed Ettanji, stressed that, “the reason for the arrest of Khatri remains his journalistic work, signaling to all others what the consequence of resistance is. If Morocco succeeds in silencing their voices, the Western Sahara will go pitch dark”. 

The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, included the case of Khatri Dadda in her report “States in denial: the long-term detention of human rights defenders” (A/76/143) echoing that he had been arrested in response to his human rights work whilst stressing that States continue to use long-term detention to silence the voices of human rights defenders and journalists. The UN expert repeated her concerns in her press release “Morocco: UN human rights expert decries “clampdown” on human rights defenders”, decrying that, “not only do human rights defenders working on issues related to human rights in Morocco and Western Sahara continue to be wrongfully criminalized for their legitimate activities, they receive disproportionately long prison sentences and whilst imprisoned, they are subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture”. The UN expert concluded that “If these reports are confirmed, “they amount to violations of international human rights law and standards and fly in the face of the Moroccan Government’s commitment to the UN system as a whole.”

Operating at great risk from what Reporters without Borders calls a "news blackhole", Sahrawi citizen journalists have become one of the few trusted sources of information for outside news media and human rights monitors, who are barred from entering the territory occupied by Morocco since 1975.

"Morocco's attempts to silence and prevent Sahrawi journalists from reporting on the situation has aggravated the "news blackhole", providing Morocco with close to total impunity to act against Sahrawis”, legal counsel of Khatri Dadda, Tone Sørfonn Moe, stresses.

The case of Khatri Dadda builds on top of several decisions already rendered by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention dealing with the arbitrary detention of Saharawi activists and human rights defenders and UN experts attesting to systematic and widespread persecution of Saharawi civil society and human rights defenders in retaliation for exercising their rights to freedom of association and expression to promote human rights in Western Sahara. Whilst serving as the current president of the UN Human Rights Council, Morocco continues to fail to implement the decisions of the Working Group, evidencing gross violations of human rights law. 

Equipe Media alongside the legal counsel of Khatri Dadda will hold a live webinar on 19 April at 15:00 CET to discuss the Working Group’s opinion and the situation of Saharawi journalists. 

Legal counsel, Tone Sørfonn Moe, tone@vest-sahara.no 
Equipe Media, Ahmed Ettanji, ettanji.ahmed@gmail.com

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