By Sidahmed Tfeil and Madeleine Bair
Despite Moroccan authorities’ attempts to silence political protests by Western Saharan activists, YouTube videos give voice to widespread anger regarding a recent trade deal. This series of videos documents clashes between peaceful activists and Moroccan authorities, when nearly 90 protesters were reported injured in the streets of Laayoune in early December.
Protesters Dispute Fishing Deal
The largest clashes took place December 10th, in response to a new fishing accord between Morocco and the European Union. The agreement would open the waters off the disputed territory of Western Sahara to European fisheries. Since Spain relinquished control of Western Sahara in 1975, Morocco has claimed authority, while Western Saharans consider Morocco an occupying force. Many say Morocco has no right to set the terms of fishing in Sahrawi waters, and for several years the agreement was held up in the European Parliament over those concerns.
Violent Repression of Peaceful Protests
Moroccan authorities have little tolerance for political protest by Sahrawi activists, and their violent response to dispersed protests over the fishing deal was reported by mainstream media as well as activists and human rights monitors on the ground. In this video, an injured girl said to be 8 years old states that she was hit in the head by officers throwing stones. “I was in a peaceful protest when we were attacked by the Moroccan police,” she states in Arabic. Several Europeans also demonstrated in solidarity against the accord.
The above video, while edited for dramatic effect by the uploader, appears to show plainclothes officers slap and forcibly arrest two men and two women, described in the YouTube description as Spaniards. More clashes between authorities and civilians are documented in videos 3-5. In videos 6-8 authorities can be seen attempting to prevent a foreign journalist from photographing clashes, an experience described in this Associated Press article.
Behind the camera
As explained on this blog previously, activist videos from Western Sahara are difficult to authenticate. Those who film protests in Western Sahara face the threat of arrest by Moroccan police and seizure of their cameras, and so filmers take precautions to hide their identities. Many of these videos were uploaded by the Sahrawi Center for Media and Communication, which uses photographs, videos, and press communiqués to shed light on human rights violations in Western Sahara.
Image: Video still from video documenting a police officer attacking one of many protesters rallying in opposition to Morocco’s trade deal with the European Union.