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Moroccan authorities restrict reporting on developments in Western Sahara

Five foreign journalists have already been deported from Morocco since the start of the year.

A tent belonging to an indigenous Sahrawi family stands in Tifariti, Western Sahara, September 8, 2016.
A tent belonging to an indigenous Sahrawi family stands in Tifariti, Western Sahara, September 8, 2016.

REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

This statement was originally published on on 4 November 2016.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Moroccan authorities to stop violating the rights of Sahrawi and foreign journalists to cover developments in Western Sahara.

By detaining reporters during demonstrations, putting Sahrawi citizen journalists on trial and deporting foreign journalists, the Moroccan authorities make life impossible for media personnel and maintain an arbitrary control over reporting in this territory.

Morocco currently controls more than 80% of Western Sahara, which is regarded by the United Nations as a non-self-governing territory.

The UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) is supposed one day to organize a referendum in which the territory's inhabitants would determine its future status. Meanwhile it continues to monitor the 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario Front.

“What residents say when interviewed is damning for the Moroccan authorities,” said Yasmine Kacha, the head of RSF's North Africa desk.

“How much longer will these restrictions on reporting freedom be maintained? It is urgent and necessary that journalists should be free to report what is happening in this extremely tense territory and, in particular, to shed light on human rights violations, which MINURSO is not allowed to monitor.”

One of the latest media freedom violations was the deportation of French freelance journalist Camille Lavoix on 23 October from the Western Saharan city of Dakhla, where she had been reporting for M le magazine (published by Le Monde). While she was detained, her SIM card and email accounts were suspended. She was the fifth foreign journalist to have been deported by Morocco since the start of the year.

Said Amidan and, Brahim Laajail two citizen journalists who report for Equipe Média Sahara, were arrested in the southern Moroccan city of Guelmim on 30 September and were held for three days.

Charged with “attacking public official,” they think the real reason for their arrest was the fact they had been accompanying Spanish activists who had come to investigate the humanitarian situation in Western Sahara.

The charge is punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of 5,000 dirhams (460 euros). They appeared in court in Guelmim on 1 November, when their trial was adjourned until 15 January.

RASD-TV reporter Nazha Elkhaledi was arrested on 21 August while covering a demonstration by Sahrawi women in Foum El Ouad, a town near the Western Saharan city of Laayoune.

Other reporting bans, especially during demonstrations, have been reported to RSF.

Morocco is ranked 131 out of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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