The Moroccan Ministry of Justice should investigate the police beating and intimidation of two human rights activists in December 2007 in the Western Sahara city of El-Ayoun, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the justice minister. Human Rights Watch expressed concern that the action is part of a broader attack on human rights monitoring by the authorities in the Western Sahara region.
Police detained Dahha Rahmouni and Brahim Alansari, members of two nongovernmental human rights organizations in El-Ayoun, on December 14. The police beat them while in custody. The two were released without charge on December 16 with a threat that statements they were compelled to sign unread would be used against them if they continued their activities.
“Morocco’s boasts about its human rights record fall flat when it allows the police to beat and intimidate rights activists like Rahmouni and Alansari,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, director for the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch.
In a letter sent to Moroccan Justice Minister Abdelwahed Rahi on December 28, Human Rights Watch urged an investigation into the incident. A Human Rights Watch request for information on the incident sent to the Moroccan embassy in Washington, DC, on December 20 had received no response as of December 28.
The Moroccan authorities tightly restrict independent human rights activities in the contested Western Sahara region, of which El-Ayoun is the largest city, on the pretext that several rights organizations there violate Moroccan law by espousing independence for Western Sahara. Authorities frequently keep activists in these organizations under police surveillance and subject them to various forms of harassment.
Alansari is a member of the El-Ayoun chapter of the legally recognized Moroccan Association of Human Rights. Rahmouni is a member of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations, an unrecognized organization based in El-Ayoun.
The Western Sahara was effectively annexed by Morocco after Spain withdrew from the zone it controlled (known as the Spanish Sahara) in 1976, and Mauritania withdrew from the remainder in 1979. A guerrilla war with the Polisario Front contesting Rabat’s sovereignty ended in a 1991 ceasefire brokered by the United Nations. Since then, a UN-organized referendum to determine the final status of this disputed region has been repeatedly postponed.