ABC News/Taroudant: In the summer of 2007 Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg met the then 22-year-old Elkouria Amidane from Western Sahara. She was then trying to obtain political support for her brother, who has been imprisoned since 2006.
This week her brother and his fellow prisoners went on a hunger strike against what they consider is unlawful incarceration of political prisoners in the conflict.
The conflict about the little desert strip along the Atlantic coast stems from Spanish colonial times. When Spain withdrew, Morocco claimed command over the country and moved in with civilian and military forces in 1975. Since then Morocco has filled the region with settlers, who work in the phosphate and fishery industries, which are extremely profitable in this region.
In 1976 the liberation movement Polisario, for its part, declared the establishment of the Sahrawi Arabic Democratic Republic. Up until 1991 they waged war against Morocco but signed a truce on the condition that a referendum was to be held on the future of the region.
Started Monday Sixty political prisoners from Western Sahara have initiated a hunger strike in protest against Moroccan authorities, prior to a new round of peace negotiations. Twenty-seven of the prisoners have already refrained from eating for two whole weeks, and another since 20 February, according to Sahara Press Service, which is attached to the independence Front Polisario.
"All the political prisoners have decided to go on a hunger strike as of Monday, 10 March", Sahrawi prisoner El Ouali Amidane (21) told ABC News on the telephone. The young political prisoner, who is incarcerated in Taroudant, 80 km east of the tourist city Agadir, is not allowed to receive visits from foreigners and must therefore communicate with the outside world by telephone.
There has been a truce between Morocco and the Western Sahara liberation front Polisario since 1991, but the parties are still far away from a solution for the phosphate-rich country with 260,000 inhabitants.
Torture and Abuse The young political prisoner was arrested on 12 October 2006, when he and his sister Elkouria participated in a street demonstration in Laayoune, the biggest city in Western Sahara. The young people shouted "We are Sahrawis, not Moroccans". That same evening the whole family was subjected to torture, and on 17 March 2007 the brother was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment for the political protests.
El Ouali Amidane has previously been on a hunger strike because he demanded to be transferred from the overcrowded prison in the regional capital Laayoune. Now he complains that he is being badly treated by the Moroccan prison authorities.
"They refuse to give me things the other prisoners are permitted to have; I don't get medicines, a TV or electric kitchen equipment, without there being any reason for it, as far as I can see."
"All the political prisoners are treated badly in prison, which is what they want to do something about through this hunger strike."
Anxious His sister, Elkouria Amidane (22), is now on a tour of Sweden and Spain, where she speaks about the abuse and the breaches of human rights that the Sahrawis experience. She is afraid that her brother is being subjected to poor treatment in prison because of her.
"I am afraid that it is because I am here, talking about the situation. I am anxious for him. He suffers from asthma and is not getting the medication he needs in prison," she told ABC News on the telephone from Sweden.
When the young human rights activist, who studies English at the university in Marrakesh, visited Norway at the end of November, his mother and sister were subjected to torture by the Moroccan police in Laayoune.
Demand Independence The political prisoners who are on a hunger strike demand that the indigenous population of Western Sahara should themselves be permitted to decide about the area's future by means of a referendum, in which independence must be one of the alternatives. This is also the demand of the armed Polisario, which controls a strip of areas around the city.
"We demand the right to self-determination and the release of all political prisoners in Moroccan prisons," El Ouali Amidane said.
The Moroccan authorities nevertheless insist that self-determination under Moroccan hegemony is the only alternative. No country recognizes Moroccan dominion over Western Sahara, and the UN Security Council is divided with regard to the future of the area. The parties have during the past weeks mutually accused each other of preventing a peaceful solution of the conflict.
Arrests and Abuse The hunger strike occurs in the light of Moroccan authorities arresting the human rights activist Yahya Mohamed el Hafed Iazza and five other Sahrawi activists. Two of the others arrested are said to have been raped with bottles and batons, whereas three others are said to have been threatened with this and subjected to torture.
The arrests provoked the hunger strike. "We decided to go on a hunger strike because of the new arrests by the Moroccan authorities," El Ouali Amidane said.
Moroccan authorities defended the arrests by claiming that the arrested activists had committed criminal acts, but in its annual report on Morocco for 2007 Amnesty International wrote that the arrest of Sahrawi activists often has a political basis.
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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