On the 29th of July of 2016, 24 Sahrawi political activists and human rights defenders of the “Gdeim Izik” group were informed that their case would be heard again by a civil court, following international protests against their illegal conviction by a military court in 17th February 2013, to sentences ranging from several years to life imprisonment.The brutality and illegality of their conviction and confinement after their arrest in connection with violent clashes after the forcible dispersal of a protest in support of the inalienable right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination has been condemned by international institutions (notably the UN) and independent observers alike. One of the original members of the group, Hassanna Aalia was granted international protection in Spain following his sentence to life in absentia in Morocco.
Proceedings on the new civil procedure started on the 13th of March in Rabat, an extra-territorial court given the fact that the Kingdom of Morocco has no recognized jurisdiction over Western Sahara.
The current trial has also undermined the United Nations Convention against Torture and the decision of the UN Committee against Torture (CAT/C59/D/606/2014) by declaring that the legal application of the international convention on torture was not a matter of concern for the Court.
It should be remembered that the accusations against “Gdeim Izik” group rest fundamentally on oral declarations that the prisoners have repeatedly declared to have been falsified and obtained under torture. It has also been impossible to link the detainees to any physical evidence, as the chain of custody has not been respected.
International observers have repeatedly denounced that the proceedings have failed to comply with international legal standards, since allegations of torture have not been investigated under the Istanbul Protocol and the accused have been repeatedly harassed during the trial.
The obstacles to Sahrawi families and international observers, including from the Intergroup, to attend the trial, along with the irregular presence of the civil accusation, add to an atmosphere of intimidation that confirms the political character of the proceedings. The situation has been deteriorating since 16th of May, following the decision of the defendants and their lawyers to leave the trial to protest these irregularities: two of the lawyers were injured as they were violently removed from the Court when they delivered a speech on the reasons for their departure.
The judge decided to continue the proceedings with new lawyers being imposed to the defendants, with whom they were unable to exchange and coordinate their defence.
Sincethen, the defendants have been obliged to attend the trials and accept their defence by forc