Siege in Western Sahara

Run over and killed by Moroccan occupation forces

A young Saharawi-woman was run over by a Moroccan auxiliary vehicle during celebrations of the Algerian victory in the African Nations Cup Friday evening. She later died of her injuries.
21. juli 2019

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The celebrations of the Algerian national football team’s 1-0 victory over Senegal in the final of the African Nations Cup have been widespread. Not least in Algeria and the country’s former colonial power France, where many Algerians live.

The victory was also celebrated by many Saharawis in the Moroccan colony of Western Sahara, as they have a particular reason to support neighbouring Algeria.  The country is a close ally that, amongst other things, has supported over 160.000 Saharawi refugees in refugee camps near Tindouf since 1975, when Morocco invaded and colonised Western Sahara.

Run over during celebrations
The Moroccan colonial authorities chose, as is often the case during demonstrations in Western Sahara, to violently intervene when thousands of Saharawis took to the street of the capital El Aaiun and other cities to celebrate the Algerian win over Senegal on Friday.

During the commotion that followed, a 23-year-old Saharawi student, Sabah Niourni, was run over by an Moroccan auxiliary vehicle driving at high speed through the crowds, Equipe Media and Western Sahara Human Rights Watch report. Both organisations document Human Rights violations in Western Sahara.

She later died of her injuries.

According to Equipe Media, the streets of El Aaiun were more or less besieged by Moroccan forces using water cannons and beatings to deter the Saharawis from celebrating.

- The accident occurred when several hundreds of peaceful saharawi demonstrators went out to the streets to celebrate the victory of the Algeria soccer team against Senegal. Soldiers were in the streets shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators and herding some in mass arrests. Dozens were seriously beaten by police, others of whom required hospitalisation for fractures and other injuries did not go to the hospital for fear of being followed and arrested, says co-founder of Equipe Media, Mohamed Mayara, who has himself experienced beatings and torture at the hands of the Moroccan occupation forces.

- A state of panic and terror prevails in El Aaiun as new army and police reinforcements arrive. The number of injured is still unknown because of the blockade, he adds.

British NGO Adala UK, that report on the Human Rights situation in Western Sahara, reported that over 140 Saharawies were badly injured after attacks by Moroccan police. According to the organisation, Sabah Njourni’s family were barred from seeing her at the hospital that she was taken to.

According to Spanish online news outlet PeriodistasenEspañ, there were also outbreaks of police violence in Western Sahara during the semi-final between Algeria and Nigeria, when a Saharawi flag – which is illegal in occupied Western Sahara – was produced. During the match supporters sang 'Labadil Labadil Antakrir al Massir' – there is no solution but independence.

The Moroccan police subsequently attacked the Saharawis with batons, guns with rubber bullets and water cannons, PeriodistasenEspañ reported.

Saharawis condemn 'crimes'
The Saharawi government in exile, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, a member of the African Union, condemned what they termed the brutality of the Moroccan police.

- We urgently call on the Security Council to hold Morocco accountable for the consequences of this dangerous act and for the heinous crimes perpetrated by its security forces against the Sahrawi population, the representative of the Western Saharan liberation front, Polisario, to the United Nations, Sidi Omar, wrote in a letter to the President of the UN Security Council.

Regrettably, Morocco’s repressive actions against Sahrawi civilians take place in the presence of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) in the Territory, which remains under the full responsibility of the United Nations, Omar continued.

MINURSO have not responded to a request for comments on Friday’s events in Western Sahara and have not commented on the matter on their website.

The Moroccan online newspaper, Morocco World News, has a rather different version of events on Friday.

- A group of people, encouraged by hostile individuals, took advantage of the celebratory atmosphere to carry out acts of sabotage and looting of property. The police were forced to intervene to protect private and public property as the criminal acts continued, it said.

Under the chaos that ensued, the woman [Sabah Njourni] was taken to hospital in Laayoune [El Aaiun], where she died from her injuries. An investigation is underway to determine the circumstances of her death, Morocco World News added.

No press freedom
It is hard to get independent reports from occupied Western Sahara, however.

In the latest press freedom index made by Reporters Without Borders, Morocco/Western Sahara are ranked 130th out of 180 countries. Journalists and other media figures in Morocco/Western Sahara are often taken to court or harassed and foreign journalists expelled, Reporters Without Borders conclude.

The organisation have previously reported how the Moroccan authorities in Western Sahara have closed down newspapers and other media in the colony and how Moroccan security forces have beaten up, detained or expelled journalists who have attempted to report from demonstrations for independence in Western Sahara.

In a new report on Western Sahara, Reporters Without Borders describe Western Sahara as a “news black hole” that is “cut off from the rest of the world” and “has become a no-go zone for journalists”.

Morocco is regularly criticised for beating up or torturing peaceful demonstrators as well as for other human rights violations, especially in Western Sahara, in reports by Amnesty International. Western Sahara has a lower freedom score than Saudi Arabia in Freedom Houses annual “freedom in the world”-report.

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