A month has passed since the arrest of three activists, but the Polisario has been unable to produce any credible evidence to buttress its case against them.
Rabat – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned the Polisario Front’s use of arbitrary arrests and torture to silence dissidents.
In a report published on its website on July 16, the rights advocacy group called on the Polisario, the separatist militia administering the refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria, to release three dissidents recently arrested and jailed without any “credible evidence” against them.
HRW’s report comes a month after the Polisario Front arbitrarily jailed three prominent Polisario critics, activists Moulay Abba Bouzid and Fadel Mohammed Braikaa, as well as journalist Mahmoud Zeidan.
Arrested for ‘peacefully criticizing the Polisario’
The three men, who according to HRW are “known as dissidents in the refugee camps,” are currently being detained “while an investigating judge explores treason and other charges against them.”
According to HRW’s telling, the common denominator with the three detainees is their unwavering criticism of the deep-seated corruption, tribalism, and dictatorship plaguing Polisario’s leadership.
In addition to lashing out at the front’s corruption and crackdown on freedom of expression in the camps, the three detained critics have recently lambasted the separatist group’s “lack of alternatives to oppression” and the “absence of dialogue” to settle the four-decade-long hostility in Western Sahara.
The report pointed to the arbitrariness of the men’s detention and the dubious circumstances of their arrests. There seems to be no reason for the three men to be put behind bars other than their harsh denunciation of the front’s human rights violations in the refugee camps it administers, according to Lama Fakih, HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director.
Fakih demanded that the three dissidents be released as the Polisario has so far failed to “show credible evidence” to suggest that they “may be guilty of genuinely criminal acts and not just peacefully criticizing the Polisario.”
In response, the Polisario leadership suggested it has no intention of releasing the three dissents. Instead, the Polisario envisions putting the three on trial for “slander, insults, and incitement to disobedience,” according to a statement from a Polisario “court.”
In an email to HRW on July 15, the Polisario leadership doubled down on its refusal to consider the body’s call that the men be let out of jail for lack of incriminating evidence. Where HRW speaks of lack of conclusive evidence at best and an organized campaign to silence dissent at worst, Polisario is pointing to the three detainee’s acts of treason towards the separatist leadership.
Polisario’s email to HRW explained that the dissidents were “in preventive custody” while awaiting their trial for “treason against the nation, acts of segregation against the Sahrawi state, sedition, vandalism, defamation, and slander.”
The three dissidents are currently being detained in the notorious Edhabia prison, a Polisario-administered facility near Tindouf, and where many dissidents have perished or been tortured over the years.
The three were arrested in mid-June. A month has passed since their arrest but the Polisario has been unable to produce any credible evidence to buttress its case against them, HRW lamented.
Bouzid, one of the two jailed activists, told his sister, who recently visited him, that he was tortured during interrogation sessions. He added that his interrogators also tried to force him into signing a written confession of the charges the Polisario seems to have fabricated for the three detainees.
But the advocacy group did not simply condemn the front’s crackdown on dissent in the refugee camps under its rule.
In addition, HRW is also calling on Algeria, Polisario’s strongest supporter, not to turn a blind eye to human rights breaches happening under its nose. For the group, the separatist front cannot conceivably do what it is doing without Algiers rubber-stamping it.
“Algeria cannot subcontract the protection of human rights on its territory and turn a blind eye if the Polisario violates them,” the body said.