Ali Salem Tamek and his wife El Khalifa Rgabi were already in Casablanca, expecting to board a flight for Madrid tomorrow, Friday 15 November 2013. They would then continue their trip to Paris, where Tamek is supposed to undergo an important surgical procedure.
But earlier this morning, Moroccan police officers came to their hotel and arrested Tamek’s wife, accusing her of being involved in a case of theft that took place in El Aaiun in June. The police claims they've been looking for her ever since, but that they could not locate her. Though she is now being approached as a sought felon, El Khalifa has travelled abroad since June, without any problems.
The police has ordered El Khalifa to go back to El Aaiun to present herself to court. Tamek – not leaving without his wife – is now accompanying her to El Aaiun, aborting his plans for his much needed surgery.
Frontline Defenders has provided Ali Salem Tamek with a grant for the operation, which Tamek is expected to use within a limited timeframe. The arrest of his wife, based on false accusations, now takes up valuable time, and consequently threatens Tamek’s chances of being able to afford the medical procedure he so requires.
Ali Salem Tamek is one of Western Sahara’s most known human rights activists. He has been arrested and imprisoned six times for his advocacy of an independent Western Sahara. Altogether, he has spent almost six years in Moroccan prison cells. This has resulted in multiple health problems, as he was subjected to inhumane treatment and undertaking several long hunger strikes to denounce his ordeal.
His last arrest dates back to 8 October 2009, when he and six other Saharawi human rights defenders were arrested at Casablanca airport upon their return from a visit to the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria. In a dangerous precedent, he was referred to a military tribunal, rather than a civil court, charged with treason and accused of “undermining Morocco’s external security and territorial integrity”. Ali Salem Tamek was provisionally released on 14 April 2011. The charges against him have not been cleared.
Africa's last colony
Since 1975, three quarters of the Western Sahara territory has been illegally occupied by Morocco. The original population lives divided between those suffering human rights abuses under the Moroccan occupation and those living in exile in Algerian refugee camps. For more than 40 years, the Saharawi await the fulfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.