Monday, February 05, 2007


Amnesty International has expressed concern over the treatment of Western Sahara political prisoners Brahim Sabbar and Ahmed Sbai as their trial is about to begin.

Brahim Sabbar is the Secretary General of the Association Sahraouie des Victimes des Violations Graves des Droits de l’Homme Commises par l’Etat du Maroc (ASVDH). He was arrested with Sbai Ahmed, a member of the Advisory Council of the ASVDH and a member of the Comité pour la Protection des Détenus de la Prison Noire, on 17 June 2006 in Boujdour, Western Sahara, following an inaugural meeting of the Boujdour branch of the ASVDH.

Brahim Sabbar was sentenced to two-year imprisonment on 27 June 2006 for assaulting and disobeying a police officer. An appeal court confirmed this decision on 20 July. Brahim Sabbar has denied the accusations and he says that he is being denied the right to read and verify the police report that was used as evidence against him, which is in breach of Moroccan law. Brahim Sabbar and Ahmed Sbai are awaiting a separate trial on charges, which include belonging to an unauthorized association and inciting violent protest activities against the Moroccan administration of Western Sahara.

Both men were brutally assaulted while in detention in the Laâyoune Civil, ‘Black Prison’ on 19 January 2007 reports the human rights group Front Line.

Reportedly, a number of police from the Mobile Intervention Forces entered a cell where the two human rights defenders and 16 other political prisoners were being detained and violently beat the prisoners with batons.

Sabbar had his leg broken during the attack and was denied adequate medical treatment.

The attack followed a month of demonstrations by the human rights defenders and the political prisoners at the “Black Prison”.

The following statement comes from Amnesty International:

Morocco/Western Sahara: Stop the judicial harassment of Sahrawi human rights defenders

On the eve of the trial in Laayoune of Sahrawi human rights defenders Brahim Sabbar and Ahmed Sbai, Amnesty International fears that the two men are being subjected to judicial harassment on account of their work as human rights defenders and their advocacy of the right to self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. Amnesty International calls on the Moroccan authorities to ensure that tomorrow’s proceedings meet international standards for fair trial.

However, it believes the two men, who have been in detention for over half a year, may be prisoners of conscience, in which case they should be released immediately and unconditionally.

The organization’s concerns are made more acute by the fact that Brahim Sabbar has already been sentenced in an earlier trial to two years’ imprisonment on the basis of charges which Amnesty International believes were probably trumped up.Brahim Sabbar, Secretary General of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State and well known to Amnesty International as a long-standing human rights activist, along with his colleague Ahmed Sbai, face charges which include belonging to an unauthorized association and inciting violent protest activities against the Moroccan administration of Western Sahara. Brahim Sabbar and Ahmed Sbai appear to have been targeted for their role in collecting and disseminating information about human rights violations in Western Sahara, as well as their public advocacy of the right of the people of the territory to self-determination. They were arrested on 17 June 2006 at a police checkpoint at the entrance to Laayoune in Western Sahara, when returning by car from the nearby town of Boujdour, where they say they had been supervising the creation of a branch of their association. Shortly beforehand, in May 2006, their association had published a 121-page report detailing dozens of allegations of arbitrary arrest and torture or ill-treatment committed by Moroccan security forces in previous months. Brahim Sabbar’s previous trial took place shortly after his arrest. He was charged with assaulting and disobeying a police officer during his arrest, but denied the accusation, maintaining that police officers in fact kicked, slapped and insulted him. Other Sahrawi human rights defenders have reported similar or more severe ill-treatment during arrest or questioning. He was sentenced to two years in prison on 27 June 2006. In the same trial, two brothers, Ahmed and Saleh Haddi, who had been travelling with Brahim Sabbar and Ahmed Sbai at the time of their arrest were convicted on similar charges and handed down a three-year prison sentence and a one-year suspended prison sentence respectively. The decisions were confirmed on appeal on 20 July 2006. Amnesty International had a number of concerns about the fairness of the trial. In particular, it was concerned about the court’s dismissal of defence lawyers’ requests to call and question witnesses, despite this being a cornerstone of the right of defence. Furthermore, Brahim Sabbar said that he was never allowed to read and check the accuracy of the record of the police interview with him, in breach of Moroccan law. Finally, Amnesty International appeals to the Moroccan authorities’ to stop criminalizing the peaceful work of Sahrawi human rights defenders and to protect the right of all Sahrawis to peacefully express their views, including on the issue of Western Sahara, without fear of reprisal.

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