MOROCCO / WESTERN SAHARA
Kelthoum Ahmed Labid EL-OUANAT
Prisoner of Conscience
MARCH 1996 AI INDEX: MDE 29/03/96
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Kelthoum Ahmed Labid EL-OUANAT, a 24-year-old woman from Smara (Western
Sahara) is currently imprisoned in Ben Sergaou Military Prison, near Agadir
(south of Morocco) serving a 20-year prison sentence imposed by the Moroccan
military court in July 1993. She was arrested with four others in October
1992, at the time of protest demonstrations in Smara and other towns in
Western Sahara. Scores (or even hundreds according to some reports) of
Sahrawi youths were arrested following the demonstrations which reportedly
took place to call for independence in Western Sahara, to protest against
the holding of Moroccan parliamentary elections in Western Sahara, and to
call for the release of detainees and "disappeared" Sahrawis.
Kelthoum Ahmed Labid El-Ouanat was arrested on 10 October 1992 in
the office of the governor in Smara, where she had gone with her father
in response to a summons she had received the previous day. After her arrest
she was held in secret detention, completely cut off from the outside world
and without access to her family, lawyers or medical care for 10 months,
during which she was allegedly beaten, tortured and sexually abused. She
was brought to trial on 29 July 1993 before the military court in Rabat
(Morocco), with five other youths,a Brahim Jouda, El-Bar Baricallah
and Mohamed Bennou, who were among those arrested on 8 October, following
the demonstrations, and Ali Gharabi and Salek Bazid, who were
arrested in May 1993. All six of them were held in secret detention until
the day of the trial, that is for several months.
Kelthoum and these five youths (plus another tried in absentia) were
charged with threatening the external security of the state; in addition
Kelthoum and the three youths arrested in October were also charged with
burning other people's property. Neither Kelthoum nor her co-defendants
were allowed any contact with their families or access to a lawyer before
the trial and were not allowed to exercise their right to choose their defence
lawyers. The trial in the Military Court in Rabat on 29 July 1993 took
place in camera, and neither Kelthoum's family, nor the families
of the other defendants were allowed to be present.
She was convicted on the basis of a police statement, which she rejected
in court saying that she had been forced to sign it after torture and ill-treatment.
The other defendants also alleged that they had been tortured and retracted
the police statements they had signed. However, the court did not order
any investigation into their complaints and did not take them into account.
Kelthoum and co-defendants were convicted of the above charges and all
were sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment.
The charge of threatening the external security of the state was based on
their known or suspected support for the Polisario Front (the Frente
Por la Libéracion de Saguia el Hamra y Rio de Oro, Popular Front
for the Liberation of Saguia El Hamra and Rio de Oro). No evidence was
brought to substantiate the charges against Kelthoum and the other three
defendants accused of having burned other people's property, other than
the police statements which the accused said had been extracted under torture.
At the time of the demonstrations in Smara and other towns in Western Sahara,
the Moroccan authorities had confirmed that demonstrations had taken place,
but stated that these had been in protest at social and economic conditions
and not politically-motivated. There were no reports (by the Moroccan authorities
or others) that the demonstrators had burned any property. The United Nations
Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara, MINURSO1, based in Western
Sahara was also not able to confirm that any acts of violence had taken
On the basis of the above and of its own investigation, Amnesty International
considers Kelthoum Ahmed Labid El-Ouanat and those convicted with her to
be prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely on account of their conscientiously-held
beliefs, and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
Amnesty International has over the years documented and campaigned against
grave human rights violations committed by the Moroccan security forces
in Western Sahara. Since Morocco took control of Western Sahara at the
end of 1975, hundreds of Sahrawi men and women known or suspected of pro-independence
activities and support for the Polisario Front, have "disappeared"
after having been arrested by Moroccan security forces. More than 300 of
these "disappeared" men and women were released in June 1991 after
up to 16 years in secret detention centres in Morocco and in Western Sahara,
where they were held in cruel and inhuman conditions, and where scores of
them died as a result. For years, and right up to the time of their release,
the Moroccan Government not only denied any knowledge of these "disappeared"
and of their whereabouts, but it also denied their existence. When these
"disappeared" were freed in 1991, the Moroccan Government issued
a list of those released as individuals released by royal pardon.
Hundreds of others who "disappeared" after having been arrested
by Moroccan security forces since 1975 remain unaccounted for, and the former
"disappeared" released in 1991 continue to live under strict surveillance
by the Moroccan security forces. To date their secret detention has not
been investigated and no one has been brought to justice for their "disappearance".
They have received no compensation for the inhuman treatment they were
subjected to during so many years of secret detention, and the families
of those who died in these secret detention centres have neither been formally
notified of their relatives' deaths, nor informed of their place of burial.
In addition, many of these former "disappeared" men and women
have been rearrested and detained incommunicado for periods varying between
a few days to several months. Hundreds of other Sahrawis have also been
arrested in the past few years and detained as prisoners of conscience in
For example, in a case similar to that of Kelthoum Ahmed Labid El-Ouanat,
eight Sahrawi youths were arrested in May 1995. Ahmed El-Kouri, Nebt Ramdane
Bouchraya, Arbi Brahim Baba, Cheykhatou Bouh, M'Rabih Rabou Neysan, Abdelhay
Lekhal, Mahfoud Brahim Dahou and Salama Ahmed Lembarki, all aged between
18 and 20 years, were accused of having taken part in a peaceful pro-independence
demonstration in Laayoune. After arrest they were held incommunicado in
secret detention for over five weeks, during which they were allegedly tortured
and ill-treated. They were tried in camera by the Rabat Military
Court on 21 June 1995 on charges of threatening the external security and
territorial integrity of Morocco. In court the youths denied having organized
or participated in the pro-independence demonstration, and stated that they
had been forced to sign confessions under torture, including electric shocks,
but their complaints were not investigated. Their confessions stated that
they had prepared and carried Polisario flags, organized and participated
in the gathering and chanted pro-independence slogans. They were convicted
and were given prison sentences varying between 15 and 20 years.
Their trial began during the visit of a MINURSO delegation to examine the
preparations for the referendum. For the first time, in the few cases where
Sahrawis who have been arrested were actually brought to trial, observers
from Moroccan human rights organizations attended the trial. The trial
was condemned as grossly unfair by Moroccan and international human rights
organizations, and on 9 July 1995, on the occasion of King Hassan II's birthday
and of Youth Day, their sentences were reduced to one year's imprisonment
by royal pardon. Amnesty International welcomed the reduction of their
sentence, but continues to call for their immediate and unconditional release.
The conviction and heavy sentences imposed on Kelthoum and her co-defendants
in 1993, and on the eight above-mentioned youths in 1995 marked the beginning
of a new pattern of human rights violations against Sahrawis known or suspected
of peaceful pro-independence activities, which further increased the existing
restrictions on freedom of expression and association in Western Sahara.
Amnesty International considers Kelthoum Ahmed Labid El-Ouanat and those
imprisoned with her prisoners of conscience and calls for their immediate
and unconditional release.
KEYWORDS: PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE1 / WOMEN1 / INCOMMUNICADO DETENTION
/ TORTURE/ILL-TREATMENT / CONFESSIONS / TRIALS / DEMONSTRATIONS / PHOTOGRAPHS
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