A London-based writer, broadcaster and journalist, Stefan Simanowitz writes for publications in the UK and around the world including the: Guardian, Independent, Financial Times, Washington Times, Global Post, Huffington Post, New Statesman, In These Times, New Internationalist, Prospect, Lancet, Salon.com, Contemporary Review, Mail & Guardian.

He has a background in policy, political strategy and international human rights law and has worked for the European Commission, Liberty and the ANC during South Africa’s first democratic election campaign. He has reported from mass graves in Somaliland and Indonesia, prisons in Cameroon and South Africa, refugee camps in the Sahara desert and he writes on all aspects of global politics. He also has an interest in culture and travel, writing reviews on music, literature, film and theatre and taking photographs to accompany his reviews and reportage.

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The Other Afrik
Hunger-striking human rights activist hospitalised as British delegation arrive
The dramatic 32-day standoff that has been playing out on the tiny Canarian Island of Lanzarote between the Moroccan government and hunge-striking human rights activist, Aminatou Haidar, took an alarming but all too inevitable twist today. As a British delegation flew in this morning they found that the woman who they had come to visit, Nobel Peace prize nominee Haidar, had been hospitalised.

Stefan Simanowitz reports from Lanzarote

Ms Haidar, now in the fifth week of a hunger-strike staged very publicly in Lanzarote airport terminal, is protesting against her unlawful deportation by Moroccan authorities. She was taken to hospital in the early hours of the morning. She had requested to go to the hospital following a bout of severe abdominal pain and doctors who examined her have said she is severely dehydrated and is vomiting blood. Indeed, last week amid fear that she could be nearing an irreversible deterioration that could result in her death even if she were to abandon the hunger strike, her symptoms were listed as hypotension, nausea, anaemia, muscular-skeletal atrophy and gastric haemorrhaging.

Ms Haidar, a 42-year-old mother of two and leading activist for the independence of Western Sahara, has given no indication that she intends to end her month-long action. "The treatment she is receiving is just to relieve and calm the pain and Aminatou will continue her hunger strike," her lawyer, Ines Miranda, told journalists who had gathered outside the hospital.

Meanwhile the delegation from London, are waiting to see if Ms Haidar will have the strength to have an audience with them. They are hoping to hand her a motion of support signed by over 34 Members of Parliament and a letter from Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition which includes Amnesty International.

One of the UK delegates Danielle Smith, founder of the charity Sandblast, has known Ms Haidar for some years and hosted in her home during Haidar’s first visit to the UK in 2007. “She is a remarkable woman with an extraordinary vision and strength of convictions. Her dignity and gentility have been an inspiration to me” said Smith. “I cannot bear the idea she is in this hospital and might die due to the indifference and hypocrisy of the international community.”

The Parliamentary motion the delegates have brought out is a copy of one tabled in the House of Commons which condemns her expulsion as well as the escalating wave of human rights violations against Saharawi human rights activists in occupied Western Sahara.

“It is important to highlight the fact that people across the world are outraged by the current situation” said actress Nicola Quilter another member of the UK delegation. Whilst encouraged by the fact that so many British MP’s are making a stand, Quilter feels that it is not enough. “As a permanent member of the UN security council, Britain needs to apply pressure on Morocco” she argues.

“Aminatou Haidar should be allowed to go home without having to sign papers declaring she is Moroccan, which she clearly is not. This is not just a matter of principle, this is a 35 year struggle for the right to self determination by a small nation. In years to come may we not look back and say we sat on the sidelines and watched this woman die and with her a country’s hope."

In the meantime Aminatou Haidar remains conscious in Lanzarote general hospital and has made clear that she will not allow herself to be force fed.


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