Western Sahara: Parliamentary questions and vigil for ‘the Casablanca Seven’

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Over 40 campaigners converged on a canal in central London this week on Tuesday evening for a vigil calling for the immediate release of seven prominent Saharawi human rights activists arrested in Casablanca nearly two weeks ago.

Shlomo van Loon reports from London

In a symbolic gesture, the campaigners floated seven candles on the water in Camden Lock in an act of solidarity with the detainees.The advocates who have a long history of monitoring and reporting on human rights violations in Western Sahara were driven away by security forces after returning from a visit to the refugee camps in the Algerian desert where 165,000 Saharawi’s have lived for over three decades.

For a week neither their location nor the reason for their detention was disclosed. They are currently awaiting trial before the military court in Rabat. Human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have expressed serious concerns for their physical and psychological integrity.

The seven have been branded “traitors” by the Moroccan media and there are fears that they might all face very lengthy sentences or even the death penalty.

Earlier in the day (Friday) in the Houses of Parliament, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Western Sahara was addressed by Western Saharan athlete Salah Amaidan, in the UK on the invitation of the charity Sandblast. He talked about the human rights situation in his country and invited the assembled MP’s – including Jeremy Corbyn, Steven Pound and David Drew – to join the Sahara Marathon this February in the refugee camps.
Another member of Parliament, Daniel Kawczynski, was not able to attend the meeting as he was participating in Foreign Office Questions during which he raised the matter of the ‘Casablanca Seven’.

After reporting on the successful petitions made to the UN Decolonisation Meeting earlier in the month Jeremy Corbyn MP expressed his deep concern for the well being of the seven human rights defenders. Stefan Simanowitz, Chair of the Free Western Sahara Network, highlighted the damaging impact that their unwarranted detention could have on the forthcoming UN-sponsored negotiations. “We call on Morocco to follow due process and respect the legal rights of the seven” he said.

“Punitive sentencing of these respected campaigners would be unjustified and would be detrimental to the ‘atmosphere of mutual respect’ described by UN Special Envoy Christopher Ross, at an informal meeting of the two parties to the negotiations in Austria in August.”

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