Human rights activists are demanding that Morocco release Saharawi journalist and political prisoner Mohamed Lamine Haddi, who has been on a hunger strike for nearly three months against harsh prison conditions. A Saharawi diplomat told Sputnik that Rabat has been emboldened by US “realpolitik” and its December recognition of Morocco’s claim to rule Western Sahara.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has urged Moroccan authorities to free the imprisoned Haddi, who has been held in the Tiflet-II Prison in the Moroccan capital of Rabat since 2010. Haddi began a hunger strike on January 13 to demand a change in the conditions he is being held, which have included years of solitary confinement, inadequate medical care, and force-feeding via a tube.
“The mistreatment of Mohamed Lamin Haddi has continued for too long,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in an April 2 press release. “It is time to end the torture and rescue this journalist from the hunger strike he has been following for more than two months and from the oblivion to which he has been consigned by a 30-year-old conflict.”
“The principle of humanity must prevail over territorial issues. Jailed ten years ago on a spurious charge, he is now in danger of dying and must be released without delay. We issue an urgent appeal to the Moroccan authorities to end his ordeal,” Deloire added.
On Wednesday, Amnesty International issued a similar request in a letter addressed to Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine el Othmani, the head of government in the semi-constitutional monarchy, urging that Haddi’s treatment conform to Mandela rules for the standard minimum treatment of prisoners, including that he be moved to his home city of El-Ayoun the capital of Western Sahara.
Haddi’s 86-day-long hunger strike has brought him dangerously close to death. During one of the rarely allowed phone calls with his mother on March 23, Haddi related that he was suffering from partial paralysis, memory loss, and pain. She told Amnesty International her son sounded very weak and could barely speak and that he has been denied access to his doctor.
Science news outlet LiveScience notes that just one month without food can result in the loss of 18% of body weight and cause permanent medical complications, with breathing becoming difficult and the increasing risk of organ failure.
“Beyond 45 days, death is a very real risk, due to cardiovascular collapse or severe infection,” the site notes.
While many prisoners have died during hunger strikes against their conditions, perhaps the most famous are the 10 Irish republican revolutionaries who perished in a prolonged hunger strike against British rule in Northern Ireland in 1981, which shocked the public around the globe.
Reporter Jailed After Protest
When Haddi was arrested in November 2010, he was employed as a reporter by RASD TV, a state-owned television station operated by the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), a government Morocco doesn’t recognize as ruling the territory of Western Sahara, which Rabat has purported to annex. He is also a member of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Human Rights Violations Committed by the Moroccan State (ASVDH), reporting on the use of force by Moroccan authorities against Saharawi and Moroccan protesters and dissidents.
Two weeks prior to his arrest, Haddi had covered the violent dispersal of the Gdeim Izik protest camp outside Layyoune by Moroccan forces. He was charged alongside several other Saharawi activists with “violence with intent to kill officials carrying out their duties,” for which he was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2013. Observers at the time described it as a show trial, and Haddi and the others have claimed they signed legally invalid confessions obtained under torture.
‘Victims of Realpolitik’
Omeima Abdeslam, the Polisario Front representative in Switzerland, told Sputnik on Friday the United Nations and US have allowed Morocco to treat the indigenous Saharawi people with impunity.
The Polisario Front was recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate representative of the Saharawi people in 1991, when it oversaw a ceasefire between Polisario and Morocco and promised a future independence referendum for Western Sahara that has never happened. In November 2020, Polisario cancelled the ceasefire, saying Morocco’s violent dispersal of a protest camp at a border crossing to Mauritania was a violation of their agreement.
When Spain left Western Sahara in 1975, Morocco quickly laid claim to the territory and faced a powerful insurgency by the Polisario Front, which fought until the 1991 ceasefire. While the US supported the UN’s process for years, in December 2020 the administration of former US President Donald Trump suddenly recognized Morocco’s claim over Western Sahara in exchange for Morocco agreeing to normalize relations with Israel, just one of several Arab nations to do so under US pressure in 2020.
Abdeslam noted that Saharawis are “the first victims of this realpolitik,” since Western Sahara is the world’s only non-self-governing territory and the UN mission, MINURSO, is the only such mission to lack a human rights monitoring component. She called the US recognition “a key issue for this mess,” noting it has encouraged Morocco to “challenge the resolutions and appeals of international law.”
“As Saharawis, we belong to non-self-governing territories under occupation and where the international law applies and these Saharawis should be protected as civilians in a zone of conflict,” Abdeslam told Sputnik, noting that the International Red Cross had been diverted by the Moroccan Red Crescent and has never visited Haddi in prison.
“The UN has failed to protect the Saharawi people and the UN has failed to give them the right and the UN has left the Saharawi people behind,” she said, noting the international body has not been able “to stop the plunder of the natural resources of Western Sahara, to protect political prisoners, to protect Haddi, to protect the Saharawis from the mines that Morocco are putting every day in our territory. It’s a big, a huge failure of the UN and the lack of political will of the states that are in the Security Council and the UN also.”
Trump’s move was extremely unpopular and was widely criticized not just by US allies like the UK, but also from some of the highest towers of US foreign policy. After US President Joe Biden took office in January, lawmakers launched a bipartisan lobbying effort for him to reverse Trump’s deal, writing in a February letter that “to officially recognize the Kingdom of Morocco’s illegitimate claims of sovereignty over Western Sahara was short-sighted, undermined decades of consistent US policy, and alienated a significant number of African nations.”