The Moroccan Court of Cassation yesterday confirmed the harsh sentences rendered against the so-called Gdeim Izik prisoners. The group took part in the protest of socio-economic marginalisation in Western Sahara in 2010.
In its decision, the Court of Cassation confirmed the verdict rendered by the Appeals court in 2017, thus upholding the sentences – ranging from 20 years to life in prison – on the basis of confessions signed under torture.
On 21 October, the court had unexpectedly announced that it accepted an appeal that the defence attorneys had submitted on behalf of the Gdeim Izik prisoners three years earlier, during the autumn of 2017. The sudden, out-of-the-blue acceptance of the case is believed to be linked to the start of demonstrations in the Guerguerat area by Saharawi civilians, blocking the trade route from Morocco to Mauritania.
The hearing of the case was held on 4 November. During the hearing, the defense lawyers argued for the annulment of the judgement due to the usage of confessions signed under torture as the main evidence against the accused. The court confirmed that the arguments of the Saharawi lawyers was comprehensive and that a decision would be rendered on 25 November 2020.
Saharawi news outlets and human rights defenders are convinced that the decision rendered by the Court of Cassation yesterday is linked to the recently resumed war between the Kingdom of Morocco and Polisario Front.
The Gdeim Izik prisoners are journalists, political activists, human rights defenders and members of the dialogue committee at the Gdeim Izik camp in 2010. The Gdeim Izik camp marked the start of the Arab Spring in the region and is told to have housed thousands of Saharawi protesters.
The arbitrary detainment of the Gdeim Izik prisoners was, amongst other cases, treated in a communication issued by the United Nations Special Procedures on 20 July 2017 (AL Mar 3/2017), signed by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers and the Special Rapporteur on Torture. The text stresses that the group of Saharawi human rights defenders had been arrested and detained in response to their freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in the Gdeim Izik camp.
Morocco occupies the major part of its neighbouring country, Western Sahara. Entering into business deals with Moroccan companies or authorities in the occupied territories gives an impression of political legitimacy to the occupation. It also gives job opportunities to Moroccan settlers and income to the Moroccan government. Western Sahara Resource Watch demands foreign companies leave Western Sahara until a solution to the conflict is found.
It's not easy keeping up with all the different legal proceedings relating to Western Sahara. For the sake of clarity, here's an overview of the five different cases at the Court of Justice of the European Union.