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HRW urges Sahrawi authorities to release detained 'dissidents'

The Polisario fought a war with Morocco from 1975 to 1991 [Getty]

Date of publication: 17 July, 2019

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Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for the release of three "dissidents" being held in Algeria by authorities of the Polisario Front, which is campaigning for independence in Western Sahara.

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called for the release of three "dissidents" being held in Algeria by authorities of the Polisario Front, which is campaigning for independence in Western Sahara.

The rights group said authorities must show "credible evidence" that Moulay Abba Bouzid, Fadel Mohamed Breica and Mahmoud Zeidan are guilty of criminal acts or set them free.

HRW said they were arrested in mid-June and were held in the Rabouni region of Algeria, which backs the Polisario.

The Polisario in 1976 declared Western Sahara the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), whose authorities are said to be holding the men.

"The three men will be investigated for slander, insults, and 'incitement to disobedience'," HRW said, citing an SADR statement dated June 20.

The charges carry sentences of five years to life in prison, the rights group said.

"Sahrawi authorities should show credible evidence that Bouzid, Breica, and Zeidan may be guilty of genuinely criminal acts and not just peacefully criticising the Polisario," said Lama Fakih, HRW's acting Middle East and North Africa director said.

HRW said the three men are known as "dissidents".

"While they support resisting Morocco's occupation of Western Sahara, they have posted numerous Facebook posts severely criticising the Polisario's leadership in recent months," the watchdog said.

The Polisario Front is demanding a referendum on independence for Western Sahara - a former Spanish colony - which Morocco has flatly rejected.

Rabat considers it an integral part of the kingdom and has proposed autonomy for the resource-rich territory.

The Polisario fought a war with Morocco from 1975 to 1991, when a ceasefire deal was agreed and a UN peace mission deployed to monitor the truce.

HRW said Bouzid and Breica are members of the Sahrawi Initiative for Change, and Zeidan - a journalist - is a founding member of the Youth Sahrawi Forum for a Solution. Breica holds Spanish citizenship.

"Both groups, which are based in Spain, challenge the Polisario leadership and favour exploring new ways to settle the 44-year-long conflict with Morocco over the political fate of Western Sahara," it added.

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