ESU was delighted to welcome a student activist from the Western Sahara to our 14th European Student Convention. It was fascinating for our representatives to hear her story and understand the consequences student activism can have in some corners of the earth. Amidane told a rapt audience of her experiences – ones which we could barely imagine – and we are keen to share her story for those who could not be present to listen to this strong, hopeful woman speak.
Elkouria Amidane bears a heavy load. In June, her brother was sentenced to 5 years in prison. Just a week earlier, her sister was arrested, and beaten during interrogation. Due to her desire for the right of self-determination for her people, Amidane has been subjected to torture and discrimination. Once she was even expelled from school for the same reason
Amidane’s closest family has been exposed to violence from the Moroccan police. Her home has been raided 15 to 20 times in the last two years without any warrant.
As the previous king of Morocco put it: “Human rights cease to exist at the borders of Western Sahara.” Morocco has occupied the territory for 32 years.
Elkouria Amidane is one of many Sahrawi students who have protested against the treatment Moroccan authorities are subjecting the population of Western Sahara to. They are demanding the right to self-determination in their own country and a final end to the atrocities committed against them on a daily basis.
“The peaceful student demonstrations are usually met with violence and deportation”, says Amidane, who herself has lost two years of school; simply because she dared to critizised the Monarch in class.
“Sahrawi students are beaten to the ground, interrogated, tortured, and sentenced to long terms in prison. Moroccan law courts try the protestors as criminals”, she explains.
Despite the students’ actions involving hunger strikes and further demonstrations, the authorities do not seem interested in compromise. In other words, Western Sahara remains Moroccan.
The latest noticeable demonstrations erupted in May this year. Together with her compatriots, Amidane participated in a sit-in at her university in Marrakesh, Morocco. Soon enough the police were informed about the situation at the university campus, and decided to entrap the protesting students.
By surrounding them and blocking every exit, the entrapment was a success. As night fell an offensive was launched. Without any warning tear gas was directed against the Sahrawis. During the commotion, many attempted to escape but only a few managed to get away whilst tenfolds were intercepted. Following a confrontation at the university square, several wounded were left lying on the ground – in serious pain. The authorities had shown them no mercy.
Amidane was battered. Her best friend, Sultana, was inflicted injury in one eye, while another friend had her stomach cut with the blade of a knife. Sultana was bleeding heavily and urgently needed medical attention. The ambulance was summoned, and the girls assumed they would be safe once on board. As it turned out, this assumption could not be further from the truth. Inside the ambulance there was no medical care awaiting them. The only treatment they received was additional ill treatment. The women were sexually abused. This continued later as well, in the interrogation room and in a police car. Sultana’s injuries proved the most serious. She ultimately lost total sight in her wounded eye.
“As Sultana was sick in bed, she was forced to sign some papers. She had no idea what these papers said”, Amidane says.
“Now we realize that they were declarations. Declarations stating that the police are not responsible for the injuries brought upon her. The responsibility was instead placed on the shoulders of Sahrawi students”, she despairs.
In June, Sultana was sentenced to 8 months in prison. She has been recovering at a hospital waiting to gain enough strength to do her time.
Amidane’s own family has experienced oppression. In April, her brother, El Ouali, was put behind bars for a 5-year sentence. Although his trial was a judicial parody, he also lost his appeal.
Her older sister was arrested outside the family’s home in July.
“We had no idea where they were taking her”, says Amidane.
The family spent 15 hours going from one police station to another without luck. A day later, Aminatu, bruised by the police, was released. She had been interrogated and questioned on her work in human rights.
32 years have passed since Moroccan troops invaded and occupied the Western Saharan territory. The monarch at that time, Hassan the Second, had but one goal: to strengthen his position as the nations’ leader in a time of political instability. The King succeeded in satisfying his own followers. The Sahrawis were dismayed.
In 1991 the Western Saharan liberation organization, POLISARIO, and the Moroccan government agreed on a deal. The plan was for the Sahrawis to arrange a referendum to decide on the future fate of the occupied territory. The referendum was meant to take place in 1992. It still has not been held.
This year new negotiations have been initiated. POLISARIO has already shown a tremendous will to compromise on the issue. They even welcome the participation of Moroccans living in Western Sahara. Still the Moroccan government is not satisfied with the Sahrawi proposal. Western Sahara, they claim, is Moroccan Sahara.
Amidane still has hope. The Sahrawi patience is, however, not indefinite. Together with POLISARIO, their struggle has been mostly non-violent. Some might claim that this is precisely the reason why the media have no interest in this hidden conflict. The lack of massive confrontations simply does not appeal to market interests. In the meanwhile, the Sahrawiscontinue to strive for self government and united international community.
“I hope more can be done for our people. The international community must react and act towards Morocco, and demand a cessation of the attrocities. We demand peace and freedom from Morocco, now. Things simply cannot go on like this”, says Amidane.
ESU would like to offer Amidane our solidarity and heartfelt sympathy for the trials she and her close family and friends have endured thus far.