UN High Commissioner for Human rights reported Moroccan harassment against Saharawi human rights defenders

Geneva (UN) 14 September 2020 (SPS)- The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet, informed the UN Human Rights Council about harassment and reprisal of Saharawi human rights defenders by Moroccan authorities, in the annual report of UN Commissioner, her Office and the UN Secretary General.

The report that comes within the framework of Human Rights Council’s resolution 12/2, in which the Council expressed concern over continued reports of intimidation and reprisals against individuals and groups having cooperated with the UN, evokes the cases of Ms. Aminatou Haidar, the imminent human rights defender, in addition to Ennaama Asfari, actually in prisoner since 2010 in reprisal of his human rights activism, and Ms. Naziha El Khalidi, the Saharawi Medias activist, who was victims to various harassment last year.

On the case of Ms. Aminatou Haidar, the report indicated that she “was the subject of threats, physical attacks and online stigmatization in connection with her ongoing engagement with the UN (see also MAR 6/2005; 5/2009).  On 29 November 2019, Ms. Haidar met with the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, the photos of which were posted on social media, and on 2 January 2020 returned to her place of residence after receiving a human rights prize in a ceremony with the Deputy High Commissioner. During her stay abroad, several on-line articles were published reportedly vilifying Ms. Haidar’s work.”

On 11 January 2020, the report added “Ms. Haidar was reportedly attacked by police officers on her way to a meeting. It was reported that the officers verbally insulted her and her children, and physically assaulted her. While she was physically attacked, one officer allegedly made a reference to her complaining to the UN. Further, Ms. Haidar was reportedly followed and monitored by different unidentified individuals inside the Palais des Nations when she attended sessions and events of the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva and delivered a statement and participated as a panellist in an NGO side-event. She also met with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other UN staff members during the session.”

The report further indicated that the Moroccan government, when confronted with this allegation, saying that Aminatou Haidar is not a human rights defender subjected to reprisals, but rather has a political agenda which does not correspond to the mandate of the report. Yet, this answer, doe not deny the reprisals, but was rather trying to justify them.

 As for Ennaama Asfari, the report indicated that his case was “included in the 2019 and 2018 reports of the Secretary-General on alleged deterioration of detention conditions following the decision of the Committee against Torture on his case in 2016.”

The report recalled the “entry ban against Ms. Claude Mangin-Asfari, the wife of Mr. Asfari,” who was not allowed to visit her husband in prison for a while, then was harassed when she finally could visit him.

In this case too, Morocco tried to deny the accusations, stating that the prisoner is enjoying his rights and not subjected to torture.

As for Ms. Naziha El Khalidi, the report recalled that she was interrogated by Moroccan authorities following a communications by Special Procedures mandate holders that was asking about her case.

To defend itself, Morocco alleged that the questioning by police was not an “act of reprisals against Ms. El Khalidi, it was rather part of an investigation into the reported ill-treatment during her arrest, which had come to their attention through the first communication by mandate holders.”

Further, the report recalled that “Ms. El Khalidi was convicted in absentia by the Court of First Instance of Laayoun for practicing journalism without accreditation (article 381 of the Penal Code). The sentence included a fine of 4,000 Moroccan dirhams (about USD 400) and the confiscation of her mobile phone seized by the police during her 2018 arrest.”

Moreover, the report adds “during the reporting period, Ms. El Khalidi has been the subject of a vilification campaign through sexist and gender-biased posts on social media from an account known to target Sahrawi human rights defenders and journalists, and her close relatives receive notifications of these postings on their cell phones. Some posts have allegedly included intimate photos and private messages taken from her seized mobile phone.”

The UN Human Rights Council condemns all acts of intimidation and reprisal committed by Governments and non-State actors and invites the UN Human Rights Commissioner to submit a report based on resolution 12/2. (SPS)

090/500/60 (SPS)