Media to highlight Western Sahara situation
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Por Sara Saidi .- Western Sahara is a250,000-kilometre territory south of Morocco that is one of the 17 territories classified as non-self-governing by the United Nations (UN). For more than 45 years, the Cherifian Kingdom – which considers Western Sahara as its “southern provinces” – has been in conflict with the Polisario Front (Sahrawi independence fighters), which denounces the Moroccan occupation of the territory. Since the 1991 ceasefire – broken again in November 2021 – the Saharawis have been waiting for the organisation of a self-determination referendum, provided for by the creation of MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) in vain.
“Western Sahara a black hole of information
As far as press freedom is concerned, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) speaks of “a territory cut off from the world, a real black hole of information, which has become a lawless zone for journalists”. Refoulement of foreign journalists, aggressions and arrests of Saharawis and above all a great taboo on the issue of Western Sahara…
In order to put an end to this silence and to inform the international community of the violations of international and human rights by Morocco, a group of Saharawi activists and amateur journalists decided to create Equipe Media in 2009. Today, with 25 volunteers, it is one of the only media outlets covering Morocco’s repression in Western Sahara. Equipe Media wants to give a different vision of Western Sahara than the one of the Moroccan regime:
“Our objective is to find a space in the international media and international organisations to, on the one hand, refute Moroccan propaganda and on the other hand give voice to the oppressed”, explains Ahmed Ettanji, 33 years old and member of Equipe Media.
Both victims and witnesses, Equipe Media’s journalists inform at the risk of their lives: “We are criminalised journalists, we work illegally and clandestinely, because we produce information that Morocco does not want to show. Most of our videos of police interventions are filmed from rooftops because we can’t work in the street and have a camera in our hands. We risk spending several years in prison,” explains Ahmed Ettanji.
Torture, repression, arrest
In November 2020, as he was preparing to celebrate his wedding, Ahmed Ettanji saw the police prevent the guests from gathering for the ceremony: “They put my family under house arrest and my wife’s family too”. On another occasion, in order to attend a Reporters Without Borders conference in Europe and even though she had a visa, his wife had to go to Mauritania first in order to get to the Canary Islands, as the Moroccan authorities would not allow her to fly directly from El Aaiun. Equipe media journalists are regularly repressed and some are also arrested: “We suffer torture, attacks, constant vigilance, confiscation of our equipment and many of our companions are in prison,” laments Ahmed.
In its 2019 report, RSF also presents the case of several journalists and activists arrested by the Moroccan authorities. “Mohamed Mayara is one of the founders of Équipe Média and also a human rights defender. On 13 January 2019, he was arrested by a group of eight police officers at El Aaiun airport. He was then detained and beaten without explanation. He was returning from a visit to the refugee camps with the popular activist Aminatu Haidar (…) Mayara, after being questioned about his visit to the refugee camps and his work at Equipe Media, left the airport without any charges being brought against him, but with a bruise on his face as evidence of his arbitrary detention and beatings. This was not the first time that this journalist had been harassed by the Moroccan authorities,” it said.
For Ahmed Ettanji, the situation has deteriorated for the Sahrawis since the breakdown of the ceasefire in November 2021 and Trump’s decision to recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara in 2020. But, he explains, “If we don’t sacrifice ourselves, the situation will get worse. For us it is a duty to inform the world about the exploitation of natural resources, about the repression, because if we do nothing, who will know what happens to us… either we keep quiet and live like slaves, or we denounce and are persecuted”, he concludes.