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A letter for the European Union

A letter for the European Union

Monday 14th January 2002

It is with a sense of urgency that I am addressing to you this letter to bring to your attention the extremely serious situation of more than a hundred Saharawi detainees, who have been staging a hunger strike since 24th December 2001, at the notorious Dark Jail "carcel negra" of the town of El Ayoun in the territories of Western Sahara illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975.

First of all, allow me to brief you on the sequence of events that have come to epitomise this human tragedy. As a protest against the degrading and inhuman conditions in which they are kept, 131 Saharawi detainees began an unlimited hunger strike at the "Carcel Negra". It is noteworthy that 23 of the detainees are political prisoners, most of them arrested in Smara on 17th November 2001 on the eve of the visit of King Mohamed VI to the occupied territory of Western Sahara, as well as on 23rd and 24th November in El Ayoun.

The Saharawi prisoners repeatedly asked the prison administration to address their demands about their worsening condition of detention. The only response of the occupying power to this demand were threats and intimidation. In front of such a situation, the Saharawi detainees had no option but to embark on an unlimited hunger strike as their last means of protest against their unbearable situation.

The hunger strikers were tortured, maltreated, cut off from the outside world and some of them were thrown into solitary confinement.

On 25th December 2001, the families of the hunger strikers (more than 200 relatives) organised a sit-in to protest and request the liberation of their relatives.

On 2nd January 2002, mothers and relatives of the 131 hunger strikers organised a peaceful protest march against the dramatic situation of their imprisoned relatives sons and brothers. The marchers were unexpectedly attacked by the police who intervened ruthlessly to disperse the participants just as they were passing in front of the hotel where the MINURSO (Mission of the United Nations for the Referendum in Western Sahara) is lodged. As a result, a number of women were seriously hurt, among them 20 were left in serious condition.

Ever since 2nd January 2002, the Moroccan authorities have been pursuing a massive campaign of pressure and intimidation against the families of the detainees in order to force them to give up the hunger strike.

As I am writing this letter, the information coming from the occupied territories of Western Sahara points towards a very serious deterioration of the situation of the hunger strikers, and the continuous blatant and ruthless indifference of the Moroccan authorities.

As may be understood from the events outlined above, the Saharawi detainees have only requested to be provided with the minimum conditions and rights to which they are entitled by international conventions on the protection of human rights.

Furthermore, it is lamentable that this human tragedy started unfolding right at the time when the POLISARIO FRONT decided unilaterally, on 2nd January 2002, to release 115 Moroccan POWs as a gesture of goodwill at the request of the Spanish Prime Minister, H.E. JosÈ Maria Aznar, whose country now occupies the rotating presidency of the European Union. Instead of reciprocating this humanitarian gesture, the Moroccan authorities have opted for intensifying their usual policy of repression in the occupied territories of Western Sahara.

In the face of the extremely grave situation of the Saharawi detainees we call upon you to intervene urgently and ask the Moroccan authorities so that the life-threatening situation of the 131 Saharawi hunger strikers be alleviated. We also call upon you to deploy all efforts to convince the Moroccan authorities to cease their repressive policies and to release immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners, and to heed the legitimate demands of the other detainees. In the end, the Moroccan authorities remain fully responsible for the fate of the hunger strikers and of those people whose life is seriously in danger.

The European Union and the international community at large cannot afford to remain idle in front of this appalling drama in which human dignity and human life are at stake. Indeed, the Saharawi hunger strikers desperately need you to come to their rescue and to respond to their SOS cry!

In front of the gravity of these events, and in order to avoid an irretrievable deterioration, we ask with insistence that a mission of observer from the European Union be sent to El Ayoun in order to see the facts for themselves.

I would like to use this opportunity to convey you my highest regards and best wishes for the year 2002. I also add to this present letter the list as it exists today, of the hunger strikers.

Yours sincerely,

Mohamed SIDATI
Head of the European Representation of the POLISARIO FRONT

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