Voices from occupied Western Sahara

Two Danish journalists, Ane Nordentoft and Ingrid Pedersen, visited occupied Western Sahara in November. They travelled there as tourists as Morocco doesn’t allow journalists to visit the colony, and they were subsequently under constant surveillance by plain-clothes police during their stay.

“Many brave Saharawi’s chose to meet with us, be interviewed, tell about their daily lives, and about demonstrations and protests against the Moroccan occupation and plundering of their country,” the two journalists reported. “They are well aware that they risk persecution and imprisonment for having told their story about the situation in Western Sahara but they chose to do so nevertheless.”

One of these brave Saharawis was Hadom Lmajid, a mother of ten and a grandmother of two. She was unable to flee, as her cousins and tens of thousands of other Saharawis did, when the Moroccans invaded Western Sahara in 1975.

Hadom has helped organise many demonstrations against the occupation of her country, most recently against the Madrid Accords, a treaty signed on 14. November 1975 between the then colonizer of Western Sahara, Spain, and Morocco and Mauritania, dividing Western Sahara between the latter two (Mauritania later withdrew) in violation of international law.

“We demonstrated against the accord because nobody asked us,” Hadom says. “We were cheated out of a referendum on the status of Western Sahara that the United Nations had promised us.”

But demonstrating against the Moroccan occupation is a dangerous business, as she readily acknowledges. “Every time we do so some of us are baton charged, beaten up, or arrested by the police. But we will not give up,” she says.

And the brutal nature of the Moroccan authorities is something that many other activists such Mohamed Baber, a young Saharawi activist, have experienced time and time again.

The first time Mohamed took part in a demonstration, the police didn’t even wait until they arrived at the police station to beat him up. They beat him up and tortured him in the police car – so violently, it turned out, that they had to drive him to the hospital first.

“At the hospital they let me lie on the floor. They wouldn’t give me a bed because I was a Saharawi activist,” says Mohamed. After he was discharged from the hospital the police took him to the police station and beat him up again, breaking his hand in the process.

This hasn’t discouraged Mohamed from attending demonstrations in the future, however. “The police has since beaten me up again on the street in front of scores of people and have turned up on my parents’ doorstep looking for me. But we will not quit our struggle.”

As is the case with Mohamed, much of the younger generation of Saharawis is getting increasingly frustrated and impatient with the lack of any discernible progress, and many are talking of reigniting the armed struggle against Morocco.

“We will be easy targets if war breaks out,” says Hamza Ahl Filali, another young Saharawi activist. “But as the situation is presently we are neither living nor dead. We still  protest peacefully but continuing to do so is becoming increasingly difficult when nothing changes. It is difficult to maintain a pacifist approach in our struggle when our peaceful protests are continuously met with force.”

Read articles written by Ingrid Pedersen and Ane Nordentoft (in Danish) here

Hear programme on Danish radio by Ane Nordentoft here

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