10 December 2009
Morocco must allow human rights activist Aminatou Haidar to return home

The Moroccan authorities confiscated human rights activist Aminatou Haidar's passport on 13 November and expelled her from the country the following day. Stranded in Lanzarote Airport, in the Canary Islands, she has been on hunger strike since 15 November in protest.

Aminatou Haidar was detained at Laayoune airport, Western Sahara on 13 November when she returned from a month-long visit to other countries, including the USA where she accepted the 2009 Civil Courage Prize, awarded annually "for steadfast resistance to evil at great personal risk."

She was questioned about why she had given her home as "Western Sahara" rather than "Moroccan Sahara" on her landing card; she was also asked about her travel, as well as her political opinions and affiliations. Her Moroccan passport and identity card were then confiscated and she was detained in the airport overnight.

She says that on 14 November Moroccan officials offered to release her if she would publicly acknowledge Morocco’s “sovereignty” over Western Sahara. She refused to do so, and a few hours later she was put on a flight to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands.
 
Aminatou Haidar's family say that she has become physically weak. Her health is at particular risk because she suffers from anaemia and a stomach ulcer. She is refusing to take her regular ulcer medication, as part of her hunger strike.

Insisting on her right to return to Western Sahara, Aminatou Haidar has rejected the possibility of obtaining refugee status in Spain. Without travel documents, Aminatou Haidar is effectively confined to Lanzarote.

Her situation is further complicated by the fact that neither she, nor her family, can access her bank account. An anonymous source has told her family that a high-ranking Moroccan security agent instructed the bank to block her account.

On December 4, the Directorate General of the National Police and Civil Guard in Spain issued an exceptional permission for Aminatou Haidar to leave the Spanish territory, citing her right to freedom of movement.

That evening, she was accompanied to a plane in a wheelchair by her doctor, her lawyer and Agustin Santos, a Spanish government official – only to be informed that permission to land in Laayoune had been denied by the Moroccan authorities.

Amnesty International believes that Aminatou Haidar's expulsion and confiscation of her Moroccan identification document and passport are politically motivated and that she is being punished because of her stance on Western Sahara's self-determination.

Picture copyright: Berserk Productions

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