New Internationalist

State of fear

saharawis running

Photo by Saharauiak/ Flickr Creative Commons

I just received the following report from NI contributor Nikolaj Nielsen in Agadir, southern Morocco...

Ahmed Salem Dohi is trying his best not to cry. His eyes are bloodshot and his voice shaking as he tells his story of the two Saharawi students killed the night before. He was there and had witnessed the horror as a Supratours bus deliberately ran them over. He shakes his head and stares at the floor of the apartment at the university residence.

'The people in the bus ran away when the police came. They were beating everyone,' he says. 22-year-old Baba Khaya and 20-year-old Lheussein Abdsadek Laktei lay dead beneath the bus.

Sitting next to Ahmed is Saharawi student leader Aino Mohammed. His phone rings. A protest is being organized. If I go, I go alone and without a camera, they tell me. At that moment, Ismaaili El Bachir enters the room and tells me of a march from the university to the bus station earlier that morning. Aino says marches are also under way in Marrakesh and Casablanca, in solidarity with Agadir.

Fifteen minutes later I'm in a taxi and arrive at a scene of mourning and anger. Several hundred Saharawi students have gathered and formed a circle. They sing, they chant. A young man stands in the centre and leads the chorus. 'Justice, justice.' they demand. The university is closed, its green iron gates are locked shut.

Everyone is demanding justice and the chants get louder and louder as more and more students arrive. I stand alone, outside the circle, hoping not to draw too much attention. Aino says some of the students are Moroccan spies and will denounce me to the authorities. I feel the tension and the stares and decide to leave. I need my camera.

Another taxi back to the student residence. I grab my bag and head back. And as I arrive at the scene the students are marching, waving photos of Khaya and Laktei. I spot a Moroccan in uniform who sees me in the cab. I tell the cab to continue past the protesters and get out. I can hear the voices now, loud, singing, on a street parallel to the one I'm on. But I decide not to follow their lead and walk in the opposite direction.

I think I'm being followed by the Moroccan DST, their intelligence service. I spot a taxi stand but the cab driver refuses to take me.
Three other cabs are available but they won't take me either. Then another cab arrives. The driver keeps asking me questions about why I am there and what my profession is. He wants to know if the people I was visiting were Moroccan or 'other', as he puts it. And then he says 'We saw you earlier.'

Foreign journalists caught writing on Western Sahara will have their material confiscated and be deported. Worse, the students I met will be beaten and possibly jailed on false charges.

In about an hour I'll be leaving for Marrakesh. On a Supratours bus?

The International Crisis Group calls Western Sahara one of the longest and most neglected conflicts. Agreed. My trip to the occupied Western Saharan capital of Laayoune from Agadir and back was delayed by numerous checkpoints. There is a media blackout. In Laayoune proper, I met several human-rights activists, some of whom had been jailed in secret detention centres and tortured. I will write about these individuals once I am home. 

For Afrol News account of the students' deaths click here
For background information about Western Sahara go to this NI issue
or to this NI country profile

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