Press Release: UN asks Morocco to investigate police violence against Western Sahara journalist and human rights defender Walid El Batal
|Various Authors 10/01/2020|
Today 7 January 2020, a so-called Urgent Appeal issued by the UN Human Rights Mechanisms concerning the arrest, torture and detention of Saharawi journalist Walid El Batal was made public.1 2
In the document, the UN body expressed concerns of Morocco targeting of Saharawi human rights defenders in Western Sahara. Particular concerns were raised regarding the arrest and detention of Saharawi journalist Mr. El Batal, and the targeting of Saharawi journalists in response to their work. Police had subjected him to violence at the time of his arrest and whilst held in detention.
The appeal is signed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
►Find the release [in French] here.
The Urgent Appeal was launched in response to the arrest of Saharawi Journalist Walid El Batal on 7 June 2019 in Smara, Western Sahara. Walid is former political prisoner and a well-known human rights defender and journalist from Western Sahara, connected to the news service Smara News. His arrest and detention led to international attention, with Front Line Defenders3 and the Organization Mondiale Contre la Torture4 pressing for his immediate release.
At the time of his arrest and whilst held in detention, Walid was subjected to aggressive police violence and torture. He was forced to sign police records, later used against him in court as criminal evidence. On 12 November 2019, Walid El Batal was sentenced to two years imprisonment for assault of public officials and possession of weapons.
The respective mandate holders asked the Moroccan government to provide comments to the information about torture provided, to clarify whether any investigation into the arrest and police violence had been conducted, to provide information on the legal basis for the arrest of Walid, and lastly, to indicate what measures that have been taken to ensure that human rights defenders in Morocco and Western Sahara are able to carry out their legitimate activities in safety and in an enabling environment without fear of threats, harassment, stigma or criminalization of any kind.
The Joint Communication published 7 January 2019 is one out many decisions rendered by the UN Human Rights Mechanisms concerning the alarming situation of Saharawi journalists. The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has on several occasions documented the systematic persecution and political prosecution of Saharawi journalist and human rights defenders in response to their support for the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.5
In all decisions, the Working Group found that the detention of Saharawi journalists constitute a violation of Morocco’s international obligations to not politically prosecute or discriminate.
Due to the criminalization on independent reporting on the Western Sahara issue, in which the recent communication by the UN Human Rights Mechanisms concerning the case of Ms. Naziha El Khalidi attests to (AL MAR 1/2019),6 Saharawi journalists work under alarming conditions; without any real means of protection; whilst systematically being faced with trumped up charges and subjected to arbitrary detention.
The detainment of the four journalists, El Bachir Khadda, Hassan Dah, Abdellah Lakhfawni and Mohammed Lamin Haddi, in addition to the continued detention of Mohamed al-Bambary and Walid El Batal serves as vicious examples of this practice; aimed at silencing the once trying to break the current culture of impunity imposed on the occupied territories of Western Sahara.7
This release is made by the Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara and the Saharawi journalist organization Equipe Media.
For comments and questions, please contact:
Ms Tone Sørfonn Moe, tone[at]vest-sahara.no, Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara.
Mr. Ahmed Ettanji, ettanji.ahmed[at]gmail.com, Equipe Media.
Western Sahara is enlisted as a non-self-governing territory, subjected to the right to self-determination in conformity with the principles contained in UN General Assembly resolutions 1514 (XV) and 1541 (XV). As Morocco invaded a territory, in 1975, in which it does not hold sovereignty (ICJ Advisory Opinion, Western Sahara, 1975), falling under the administration of a “High Contracting Party” (Spain), rendering the conflict and international armed conflict (GCIV article 2 (2)), Morocco’s presence in Western Sahara, without the consent of the people of Western Sahara, is the one of an “occupying power” falling under Article 42 of 1907 Hague Regulations and Article 2 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
1 Reference AL MAR 5/2019: Joint Communication issued by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, dated 8 November 2019. Published 7 January 2020. The Join Communication is made available here: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=24936
2 The Joint Communication was made public 7 January 2020, 60 days after having been transmitted to the Kingdom of Morocco. At the time of writing, the Kingdom of Morocco has not provided a response to the communication sent.
3 See the campaign launched by Front Line Defenders here: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/human-rights-defender-waleed-al-batal-physically-abused-police-custody-and-sentenced-six-years
4 See the campaign launched by the Organization Mondiale Contre la Torture here: https://www.omct.org/fr/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/morocco/2019/10/d25553/
5 See opinions adopted by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention available on the homepage of the Working Group < https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/detention/pages/opinionsadoptedbythewgad.aspx> The Working Group documented the political prosecution of Saharawi human rights defenders in Opinion No. 39/1996, Opinion No. 4/1996, in Opinion No. 11/2017 concerning Salah Eddine Bassir, in Opinion No. 31/2018 concerning Mohamed Al-Bambary, in Opinion No. 60/2018 concerning Mbarek Daoudi, and lastly, in Opinion No. 23/2019, concerning Ndor Laaroussi.
6 Joint communication signed on behalf of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment concerning the case of Saharawi journalist Ms. Naziha El Khalidi, dated 3 April 2019, made available here: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=24506
7 For more information, please consult the report recently published by Reporters Without Borders, «Western Sahara, A desert for journalists», available here: https://rsf.org/en/news/rsf-report-western-sahara-news-blackhole