Sahrawi demonstrators in Sol, 27th July 2017
“We are demonstrating against a farcical trial and –against –the conspirational silence of the international community, a community that demands respect for human rights in other
parts of the world [read that as Venezuela] but forgets all about Western Sahara.”
By Josephine Cooke
Photos: J. Cooke unless stated otherwise
Madrid, Thursday 27th July 2017. The height of summer. The day was blistering-hot as it could only be in inland Madrid. But Sahrawi demonstrators gathered in Sol anyway, that geographic centre of the Kingdom of Spain. To seek justice for the imprisoned Gdeim Izik protesters. They held pictures of the faces of the 23 prisoners and how long they have been jailed. They held placards and banners saying ‘Free Sahara’ and “Free the Sahrawi prisoners of Gdeim Izik”.
Gdeim Izik was a protest camp in Western Sahara. Protests started on October 9th 2010 and lasted until November. Starting with only a few hundred protestors, their number increased rapidly in the following weeks. Protesters’ tents sprouted from just a few hundred to several thousand. The population of the camp at its peak was estimated to be around 5, 000.
It all started out as a peaceful protest against the discrimination, poverty and severe human rights abuses perpetrated against local citizens. Later, however, violent clashes erupted between the Sahrawi civilians and the Moroccan security forces. By then some protestors were even calling for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco. One hundred sixty-three were arrested. The 23 convicted received heavy sentences ranging from 20 years to life.
Jira Bulahi, who was born in Western Sahara in 1965 when the place was still an overseas province of Spain, has asked the Spanish government to mediate with Morocco for the purpose of freeing the Gdeim Izik prisoners. Bulahi is the representative of the Saharan Delegation for Spain (Delegación Saharaui para España) of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) which declared its independence in 1976, and was also a member of Frente Polisario’s National Secretariat, making her the highest Sahrawi representative in this country.* She asserts that the sentences slapped on the prisoners were based on confessions gained through torture, false testimonies and numerous irregularities throughout the trials.
Bulahi went on to say that the conviction of these protestors, who were simply asking for social and economic improvements for Sahrawi people living under Moroccan occupation, is an act of repression by Morocco.
Frente Polisario (from the Spanish abbreviation of Frente Popular de Liberación de Saguía el Hamra y Río de Oro or Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Río de Oro both of which territories made up the Spanish province of Spanish Sahara) is a Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement whose ultimate aim is to end Moroccan presence in Western Sahara. It is recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate representative of the Western Saharan people.
Referring to Gdeim Izik, and also in clear allusion to Venezuela, Abdullah Arabi, Frente Polisario’s delegate in Madrid, said during the demonstration in Sol: “We are demonstrating against a farcical trial and against the conspirational silence of the international community, a community that demands respect for human rights in other parts of the world [read that as Venezuela] but forgets all about Western Sahara.”
It is obvious that the Sahrawi demonstrators in Sol believe Spain should mediate with Morocco on behalf of Gdeim Izik and the Frente Polisario in general; it should demand that Morocco respect international law.
Spain, after all, is still a power in that region.
The Frente Polisario demonstration in Sol this hot July wasn’t the first; it won’t be the last.
*The UN lists SADR as a “non-self-governing territory” at the same time recognizing the right of the West Saharans to self-determination. Frente Polisario works hand in hand with SADR.
Jira Bulahi, from the Delegación Saharaui para España, Fair use
Frente Polisario demonstration 2006/-jkb-, CC BY-SA3.0
Josephine has studied at the University of Birmingham in the UK as well as Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Right now she’s doing human Geography, specialising in social, cultural and political geographies, specifically focussing on European society and politics. When taking a break from hard-hitting politics, Josephine can be found exploring the food, drink and fashion scene wherever she goes.