Pardon for Mohamed Daddach

After 22 years in prison the Sahrawi prisoner of conscience Mohamed Daddach was liberated. Thanks to pressure from (among others) Amnesty International.

By Nicolien Zuijdgeest

English translation by the author of:
«Gratie voor Saharaan, Na 22 jaar gevangenschap kwam de Saharaanse gewetensgevangene Mohamed Daddach vrij: Dankzij druk van onder andere Amnesty International»,
Nicolien Zuijdgeest,
WORDT VERVOLGD, Magazine of the Dutch section of Amnesty International, n. 35, February 2002.

Never in his whole life had Mohamed Daddach cried. Not even a tear he dashed away during his 22 years of detention in a Moroccan cell. The first days of November the 44 year old prisoner of conscience was liberated. "First, as my mother called me, I felt that I must cry. I fought against it, but with no effect", Daddach said by phone from Laayoune in the Western Sahara. Daddach explained, that he heard his mother's voice the last time in 1975. In that year the war started and his mother fled to Algeria, where she lives in a refugee camp.

Daddach was liberated together with a group of prisoners of conscience after king Mohamed VI pardoned on November 7, one day after the yearly celebration of the Green March, an invasion of an enormous and peaceful scale by which Morocco annexed this territory rich in phosphate. A long term international campaign for liberation was the startingpoint. Daddach and others were active themselves by a hunger-strike

This liberation is special, because Morocco always denied the existence of Sahrawi political prisoners. Just the capture of Daddach is admitted, because he was accused officially of desertion. Mohamed Daddach tells his story: "In 1973 I became a member of Polisario to fight for an independent Sahara. In the war they made me a prisoner of war. After 2 years of detention I was forced to become a Moroccan policeman. In August 1979 I escaped, but the army was pursuing me. During the escape I wrecked my car. My friend died and I broke my shoulder."

In 1980 Daddach was condemned to death by a military court. He was locked in one of the most notorious prisons: Kenitra. Daddach suppresses his emotions when he summarizes his treatment: "Nothing was spared to me: I was in an isolation-cell and was tortured mentally as well as physically. I did not receive Medical treatment before a couple of hunger-strikes. Still today my shoulder is not o.k. In 1994 my punishment was changed into lifetime in prison. I did not have much hope, however I was convinced that I was deserted from an unjustified case. Three years later I became hopeful, after I had heard that Amnesty International had adopted me as an prisoner of conscience. My name was well-known worldwide and I was allowed to have visitors sometimes.

Now the voice of Daddach sounds happy. Very happy and grateful. But not towards king Mohamed VI for his pardon, he explained. "I rejected the proposal of the Moroccan Advisory-council for human rights to ask for a pardon from the king, because I saw my punishment as not according to the law. I am liberated thanks to the pressure of international organisations. I want to thank in particular Amnesty International because they have always - as the longest- standing Sahrawi political prisoner - supported me. Besides I want to thank all friends and families who have written letters for me and fellow-prisoners with effort and persuasion."

After his liberation, Daddach had accustom himself to the changed world. He smiles, just as he must laugh about himself. "Friends of me drove with me through Rabat: I was frightened of all the traffic. There are so many cars, so many TVs I was able to follow the world-politics, because I hid away a little radio in my cell. I heard about the changes in the Western Sahara, but qua infra-structure or buildings the changes are minor. It is obvious that at this moment so many Moroccan immigrants live in the Western Sahara, that the Sahrawi form a minority.

Daddach is characterized by his never ending fighting spirit. After his liberation he is not mincing his words. During his speeches at the welcome-ceremonies in Laayoune and Smara, Daddach demanded clarification about the fate of hundreds of disappeared Sahrawi. He also demanded the United Nations to organize a referendum in which the Sahrawi can declare themselves about self-determination.

It is obvious to Daddach, that the Sahrawi since the accession to the throne of Mohammed VI dare more and more to air their opinion. Since January 130 Sahrawi and Moroccan prisoners started with an hunger-strike to protest against the bad conditions and the violations against human rights in the over-crowded prison.

During a visit of Mohammed VI to Laayoune and Smara in November 2001 there were numerous protests and rebellions. The government arrested lots of Sahrawis, but this type of sayings were not possible at all under Hassan II. Daddach: "The protests are the proof that the Sahrawi still reject the Moroccan occupation. This freedom of speech is limited. Daddach has till now no identity-papers. And personal belongings of friends of Daddach, just as the car in which Daddach was picked up and videotapes of the ceremonial reception are confiscated by the Moroccan police.

The conflict started the moment Spain retired from their former province in 1975 Morocco and Mauritania annexed the territory, to which Polisario with Algerian help started an armed struggle. In 1979 Mauritania withdraw and Morocco occupied the Southern part also.

In 1991 a cease-fire was reached and the U.N. would organize a referendum about the future of this territory. The registration of the voters was the biggest obstacle, because the party with the biggest number of voters would win the referendum anyhow.

Because many Moroccan voters were rejected, Morroco suggested an alternative solution: The Third Way. The administration of this territory will be in Moroccan - Sahrawi hands, but vital departments such as: police, defence, foreign affairs and communication will be Moroccan only.

Not just the original inhabitants only are admitted to the referendum, but also Moroccan colonists and soldiers, enticed by the government since many years to settle in the south by attractive tax-advantages. Since as the Sahrawi are a minority in the meantime in the Western Sahara the result of the census is steady. Polisario rejects this Third Way, because it does not conform with international law, in which is said, that a group of people in the middle of a decolonisation-process has the right to proclaim self-determination.

The U.N. peace-process in the Western Sahara is known as the longest conflict, that costs so much money that UN Secretary-General Annan wants to end it as soon as possible. Last summer Annan declared he saw no future in the referendum and gave time to his special representative till this spring to negotiate with both parties about the Moroccan proposal.

King Mohammed VI has broken with many taboos from the period of his father, but the 38 year old king has not carried out real political reforms to improve the bad social-economical situation in the country The Moroccan "spring" has more words than facts.

Observers consider the big amnesty for prisoners as a sop to convince the international community of the good will of Morroco at the moment the Saharan conflict is in a sensitive impasse.

The international interest to the conflict decreased, but economic interests can play a decisive role. At the end of 2001 the French oil company. TotalFinaElf and the American Kerr Mc Gee signed a contract to search off shore for oil in the coastal waters of Western Sahara. Though the U.S. most of the time forms a political counterweight against France, the U.S. this time is behind Morroco.

Only Spain, the present president of the E.U. will replace the conflict on the agenda of the U.N. A task that will put under pressure the bad relationship between Sahrawi and Moroccans even more.

Daddach is 100% against the third way. A fair and honest referendum is the only possibility for peace. "Though I lost in prison much of my health, though I have forgotten partly my Sahrawi-Hassaniyya dialect, though I am not registered yet as a voter because I was a prisoner - I will never give up the struggle for an independent Western Sahara.

Nicolien Zuijdgeest

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