Morocco repressing activists in Western Sahara after normalization with Israel
Activists in Western Sahara say they are facing a brutal crackdown by Morocco following the normalization deal between the North African nation and Israel.
The United States recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara — where pro-independence sentiments run high — as a gift following its normalization with Israel.
The Middle East Eye news portal cited the activists as saying on Friday that Washington’s decision on December 10, 2020, to recognize Morocco’s territorial claim to Western Sahara had emboldened Rabat to harass ordinary people and those critical of the move.
Mahmoud Lemaadel, one of the activists, reported an “unprecedented” number of assaults on activists and campaigners in Western Sahara over the past weeks.
“Since that point (US recognition), Morocco has launched an arbitrary campaign targeting human rights activists and also citizens who have nothing to do with any type of activism,” Lemaadel said.
Following the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Sudan, Morocco became the fourth Arab country late last year to reach a normalization agreement with Israel, which was brokered by the administration of ex-US president Donald Trump during its final days in office.
As part of the contentious deal, Trump agreed to recognize Morocco’s authority in Western Sahara, which has been at the center of a decades-old territorial row between Morocco and the Polisario Front.
The Algeria-backed movement has been fighting for the Sahrawi people’s aspirations for independence from Moroccan rule and for a referendum on their self-determination, something that has been pledged to the region in UN resolutions.
Resource-rich Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, was claimed by Morocco in 1957, but its indigenous population is firmly opposed to Moroccan control and has been calling for independence from the North African country.
The Moroccan government has long been responding to pro-independence activism in Western Sahara with an iron fist.
Last December, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed Rabat for having kept a “strong lid on any manifestations of opposition to Moroccan rule in Western Sahara for a long time.
The leading New York-based rights group said Moroccan authorities “have prevented gatherings supporting Sahrawi self-determination, beat activists in their custody and on the streets, imprisoned and sentenced them in trials marred with due process violations including torture, impeded their freedom of movement, and followed them openly.”