Andrew McConnell



Ahmed Sbaai

Age: 31

Secretary-general of the Saharawi League for the Protection of Political Prisoners inside Moroccan Jails, human rights defender, leader of intifada, pictured on the streets of El Aaiun city, in Moroccan controlled Western Sahara.


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I was born in 1978 in occupied El Aaiun. When we were kids we first felt the discrimination of Morocco against the Saharawi in school where teachers would give more attention to Moroccan kids so that we felt different and knew they were not like us and had a strange culture. I became involved in the intifada in 1999. In 2001 we created a organisation called Turbaners and we started distributing leaflets demanding the right to self determination and asking the Saharawi people to revolt and take part in demonstrations against Morocco.We also distributed leaflets to Moroccans informing them that they are settlers and that they should return home.

Our principals were that the intifada would be peaceful, we made national flags and hung them in Moroccan institutions, we also held two minute demonstrations with flags and shouting slogans before dispersing before the police could take us. It was important for the Saharawi people to know some brave men were prepared to fight [the cause]. Then we changed strategy, we regarded the settlers as victims of Moroccan authorities so we targeted the Moroccan police. We burned down a police station. After all this Morocco felt in danger, they felt this could turn into something bigger and were worried the Polisario were involved.

After this we organised a large demonstration in El Aaiun and disrupted the 2002 elections. Morocco discovered our network and started to arrest some of our activists. I knew they would come for me so I went to the desert but they arrested my father so I handed myself in. I was sentenced to ten years. I was blindfolded and left naked in a cell for five days, they used all kinds of torture. They wanted to know if I was with the Polisario but I told them I was not. I spent one year and three months in the 'Black Prison’ of El Aaiun. The Polisario leadership and international organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch campaigned to release all the Saharawi prisoners held in Morocco and brought a lot of pressure on Morocco. I was among twelve Saharawis who received a royal pardon in 2004.

After I was released I joined with the defenders of human rights and started a committee to protect Saharawi prisoners. We write newsletters, release statements and attend trials and host international observers. We face intimidation from Morocco. I was arrested again in 2006 and accused of being a member of an illegal organisation. I was sentenced to one and a half years. Since my release I have continued my work, I am harassed daily, my passport has been confiscated, even today two human rights observers were removed from my home. Sometimes I feel I was more safe inside prison than outside, at least inside there are guards but outside they [Morocco] could hire someone to kill me.

Our return to war will be legal because the international community has not the desire to solve this problem and it is not acceptable to live with beatings, kidnappings, and killings. We feel injustice from Morocco but also from the silence of the international community, we will end this silence the day we return to arms. It could happen tonight.