13 March 2015

Life sentence for fighting Africa’s last colonial power

Peter Kenworthy
Africa Contact

A life-sentence in prison, torture and no medical treatment is the price Sidahmed Lemjayed and 22 of his fellow Saharawis have had to pay for fighting for independence and against the exploitation of resources in their homeland, Western Sahara.

“Saharawi political prisoners are daily exposed to systematic torture and ill-treatment, harassment, medical neglect and other abusive treatment”, the Committee for Supporting the UN Settlement Plan and the Protection of Natural Resources in Western Sahara (CSPRON) said in a statement last week.

Western Sahara, Africa’s last colony, has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975 despite the International Court of Justice, the international community and over 100 UN resolutions dismissing Moroccan claims to the territory and demanding a referendum on the status of Western Sahara that would almost certainly lead to independence for the indigenous population, the Saharawis.


CSPRON’s founder and President, Sidahmed Lemjayed, is suffering from a multitude of ailments due to the torture he has suffered at the hands of the Moroccan authorities. CSPRON reports that he has severe kidney, back, eye and foot pains and that he is not being given proper medication or treatment to ease this pain. Many of the other Saharawi prisoners in Salé prison near Rabat complain of similar disorders.

Sidahmed Lemjayed and 22 other Saharawis are serving prison sentences from 20 years to life imprisonment. Sidahmed was arrested, assaulted and imprisoned in December 2010 and subsequently held in isolation for 70 days and for two years without trial.

He was subsequently charged with membership of a “criminal gang” and “deadly violence” against members of the Moroccan security forces and sentenced by a Moroccan military court. Sidahmed and his fellow prisoners vigorously deny these charges and claim that they are being punished by the Moroccan authorities for having campaigned for the independence of Western Sahara – in effect a punishable offense according to Moroccan law.


Sidahmed Lemjayed had met with several human rights organizations and politicians to ask them to push for independence for Western Sahara and protect the natural resources of Western Sahara that Morocco is both illegally plundering and dangerously exhausting and over-exploiting prior to his arrest. Amongst others, he met with Human Rights Watch in 2006, a delegation of the European Parliament in 2009 and representatives of the US Embassy, says CSPRON.

For their part, Human rights Watch, Amnesty International, several other human rights organizations and the UN heavily criticized the trial of Sidahmed and the 22 other prisoners. Amnesty International regularly reports of Moroccan torture of Saharawis, and in an international anti-torture campaign last year they deemed Morocco (including Western Sahara) to be one of the five worst torturing nations in the world.

Based on visits to Morocco and Western Sahara, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, concluded in 2013 that a “systematic pattern of acts of torture and ill-treatment during the detention and arrest process can be detected”, and that “conditions in most prisons are still alarming, due to overcrowding, cases of ill-treatment and abusive disciplinary measures, unsanitary conditions, inadequate food and limited access to medical care”.