“The families of the Western Sahara political prisoners are suffering with them”

From 7 to 10 May, the Rafto Foundation was part of the international delegation of human rights experts, jurists and lawyers who met with families of prominent Sahrawi political prisoners, Group of Gdeim Izik. In meetings, the families denounced how their sons, brothers and husbands have been punished for their advocacy.

Photo: The international delegation in meeting with one of the families of the Gdeim Izik-prisoners, May 2022.

The group of imprisoned Saharawi human rights defenders have been held in Moroccan jails since 2010. The 19 prisoners were arbitrarily arrested in 2010 and sentenced to lengthy terms in prison following two trials marred by allegations of torture and numerous other irregularities. They are currently held under brutal conditions in six different prisons on Moroccan’s soil and denied medical, legal and family visits.

Read the press release from the international delegation to Rabat

Important to hear their stories

For the Rafto Foundation, the trip is part showing solidarity to the cause of the Rafto Laureate 2002 Sidi Mohammed Daddach, who has for many decades been fighting for the Sahrawi people's struggle for self determination.

Rafto employee, Bjørnar Dahle, who was one of the delegates travelling to Rabat to meet witht the families, explains why it was important to visit the families now, almost 12 years since the imprisonment of the Gdeim Izik:

The families are suffering with them. It is important to hear their stories since neither we, nor their lawyers or doctors are allowed to visit the prisoners. Also, the family members are often arbitrary denied visitation rights after taking on the 1200 km long journey from occupied Western Sahara to the Moroccon prisons. That is a 22-hour bus ride! The prisoners are only allowed a five-minute phone call, maximum three times a week, to pre-approved people – in which of course exclude calls to lawyers,” Dahle explains.

Facts Gdeim Izik

The Gdeim Izik is the name of a protest camp in Western Sahara, established on 9 October 2010. Thousands of Saharawi civilians protested against the Moroccan occupation, many were arrested by Moroccan police. Three years later, in 2013, a group of 19 prisoners, known as the Gdeim Izik prisoners, was brought in front of a Military Court that sentenced them to harsh prison sentences on the basis of unread confessions signed under torture.

The sentences were to a large extent confirmed by a civilian court in 2017, before they were upheld by the Moroccan Court of Cassation in November 2020.

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.

Source: The Norwegian Support Commitee for Western Sahara, vest-sahara.no

Inhumane conditions

The phone lines are also being tapped, and if they share concerns regarding prison conditions, the line may get cut. All this was told to the international delegation in personal testimonies.

“The family members also told us cases of physical and psychological violence, isolation and solitary confinement, maltreatment, humiliations and racial discrimination, threats, poor food, lack of medical attention — all inhumane conditions amounting to torture,” Dahle continues.

The delegation stayed in Morocco for 5 days before returning home safely. The families of the prisoners then embarked on their 22-hour bus ride back to occupied Western Sahara, where they will continue the struggle for the release of their sons, brothers and husbands continues.

“Standing with the families, we echo their demands for the immediate release of the Gdeim Izik prisoners”, Bjørnar Dahle concludes.