Protesters Demand Spain Halt Deportation of Moroccan Rights Activist

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Friday, February 6, 2015

Campaigners on Thursday demanded that Spain halt the deportation to Morocco of a man who fears being tortured there after being sentenced over unrest in the disputed territory of Western Sahara.

Rights activist Hassanna Aalia, 26, is demanding political asylum in Spain but says Spanish authorities have turned down his request. He told AFP he faces torture in jail in Morocco.

Aalia was one of the organizers of a protest camp that drew tens of thousands of Sahrawis in 2010 in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony now controlled by Morocco.

He was accused of killing members of the Moroccan security forces during unrest that broke out when they raided the camp and crushed the protest.

Eleven security force agents and two Sahrawi civilians died in the clashes.

Aalia denied any wrongdoing but said he was sentenced to life in prison in absentia by a Moroccan military court in 2013, while he was studying in Spain. He had earlier received a suspended sentence from a civilian court.

"If I go back there, I face jail for life and all kinds of torture and mistreatment," he told AFP.

An interior ministry spokeswoman told AFP the ministry could not comment on the case due to confidentiality laws governing asylum cases.

Aalia said his lawyer was preparing to lodge a last-minute appeal against his deportation at Spain's National Court. It was not certain whether he could be deported before the appeal runs its course.

He alleged Spain was refusing him asylum to protect its economic relations with Morocco.

"This is a political case. Economic interests are being placed above all else," he said.

Aalia's supporters staged a five-day hunger strike in Madrid airport which ended on Wednesday.

They then handed to the interior ministry a petition demanding asylum for Aalia, signed by 150 groups including branches of the left-wing party Podemos and the leading trade union UGT (General Union of Workers).

The Spanish Human Rights Association warned Spain it was breaching international human rights treaties by denying Aalia asylum.

"The expulsion order could be a death sentence to this person," it said. It accused Morocco of "repression" in the territory.

Western Sahara is a sparsely populated tract of desert about the size of Britain with large phosphate reserves and rich fishing grounds off its coast.

Morocco took control of most of Western Sahara in November 1975 when Spain withdrew.

Around that time, the contested territories witnessed a civil war which ended with a UN-backed ceasefire agreement in 1991 and where Morocco took control over two thirds of the Western Sahara and the rest is controlled by Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), which is strongly backed by Algeria, threatening the relationship between the neighboring Arab countries.

Morocco claims ownership of the Western Sahara and says that it falls within its territories, although the case is currently under review by the UN, which considers it an issue of "decolonization."

In November, Moroccan King Mohammed VI challenged the international community, maintaining that the Saharan territories are not up for discussion or negotiation and belong to Morocco "until God takes back Earth and its inhabitants," and that an autonomous rule is the greatest concession Morocco is willing to make.

The king explicitly accused Algeria of obstructing the seizure of the Republic of Western Sahara, while Algeria maintained silence and did not respond to the king's accusations as it usually does in such situations.

Repeated bids by UN mediators to hold a referendum on self-determination for the Sahrawis have failed.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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