Saturday, September 25, 2010

Western Sahara: Rights groups and UN protest arrest of Police Chief for speaking out to end Sahara conflict

International human rights advocacy groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have spoken out against the Polisario Front's arrest of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, its Chief Police Inspector. Sidi Mouloud was arrested Tuesday night in Algeria on allegations of "treason" and "espionage"—simply for voicing his support for a Moroccan autonomy plan to reunite Sahrawis and end the three decades-long Sahara conflict. Sidi Mouloud was returning to Algeria's Tindouf refugee camps to rejoin his wife and children after a UN-sponsored Family Visit to see his father for the first time in 31 years in southern Morocco. On the trip, he announced his support for the compromise plan, bringing threats of arrest, even death from the Polisario.

Amnesty International issued a lengthy statement on Sidi Mouloud's arrest, saying a "supporter of the autonomy plan should not face retaliation in the Tindouf camps in Algeria." "Amnesty International believes that peaceful support for the autonomy of Western Sahara should not," it emphasized, "justify restrictions to the right to freedom of expression." Amnesty sent a letter to Polisario leader Mohamed Abdelaziz urging him to "ensure that Mustapha Salma Sidi Mouloud is protected from arbitrary detention or any other retaliatory measures due to his public stance in support of the autonomy of Western Sahara under Moroccan sovereignty."

Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said Sidi Mouloud had "publicly praised Morocco's solution to the conflict and said he would return to Tindouf to defend it, which is his right. If the Polisario Front wants to show that they are not persecuting [him] for his views, it should free him immediately or ensure that he receives a fair and transparent trial on credible charges."

Both organizations urged the Polisario to disclose Sidi Mouloud's precise location and ensure his immediate access to his family, legal counsel, and any medical attention he might require.

UNHCR's Johnnes Van Der Klaauw, speaking to media in Rabat, Morocco on the difficult circumstances facing the refugees in the Tindouf camps, expressed "deep concern" about Sidi Mouloud's arrest and said the UN refugee agency was "closely" following the situation.

Other human rights organizations following the situation include the US-based Leadership Council for Human Rights, which called the arrest "illegal" and urged the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek Sidi Mouloud's release.

Sidi Mouloud told Italian news agency Adnkronos International days before his arrest that, "I am aware that my life is in danger but I decided to return to Tindouf because I want to tell everyone that the policy pursued by the Polisario leadership is wrong." He resolved to return "despite death threats" and appeal to refugees in the camps to support Morocco's autonomy plan as the best solution for Sahrawis to "achieve our main objective"—preserving their culture and identity. Sidi Mouloud, the son of Sheikh Salma Mouloud, leader of the Rguibat tribe (largest in Western Sahara), announced his support for autonomy on his trip last month after seeing the progress and development taking place in southern Morocco.

"Arresting Sidi Mouloud and charging him with treason and espionage simply for expressing his views is a blatant and outrageous abuse of his rights," said Robert Holley, Executive Director, Moroccan American Center for Policy. "I call on the international human rights community to remain vigilant in protecting his rights, demanding information about his whereabouts and monitoring his situation."

Source: Moroccan American Center for Policy

Related i On Global Trends article
Thursday, September 16, 2010: Western Sahara: Polisario Front threatens to imprison top police official for backing plan to end Sahara conflict