By Sidahmed Tfeil and Madeleine Bair
On Monday, February 10, Sahrawi independence activists held a vigil in Laayoune, Western Sahara calling for independence from Morocco, which has claimed authority over the territory since 1975. As expected, security forces swiftly cracked down on the peaceful protesters, including human rights activist Leila Lili, who can be seen in a white and black headscarf. In the first video, officers are filmed forcing Lili to the ground, and dragging her down the street by her hair. Other footage shows a circle of officers grabbing, slapping, and pushing Lili and other activists.
After she was released later that day, Lili described on video her treatment by Moroccan authorities. The hair-pulling, she said, was the worst of all. Then, “they took me to a narrow street… where they kicked me on the front and on my legs, on my back and all over my body.”
Human Rights Violations
The vigil on February 10 was organized in commemoration of Gdeim Isik —a protest camp erected in late 2010 by Western Sahara independence activists. The camp was dismantled two months later by Moroccan forces in a raid that resulted in deaths, injuries, and hundreds of arrests. Sahwari activists have made repeated calls for the release of Gdeim Isik political prisoners. Most recently, the president of the Polisario Front called on the UN to take urgent action to stop the arrests and violent targeting of of Sahrawi activists.
Due to repression of independent media and civil society within Western Sahara, YouTube videos are often the only source of information about political struggles and human rights violations within the disputed territory. However, as a Human Rights Watch researcher recently described, activist filmers face the constant threat of arrest and violent intimidation by Moroccan authorities. For more stories on violent repression in Western Sahara, see this Human Rights Channel playlist of footage taken during protests of a Moroccan trade deal with Europe, and this one on the killing of an activist in September of 2013.
Image from video uploaded by YouTube user SAHARAWI CMC