PUSL.- Maître Olfa Ouled, a French lawyer based in Paris who represents 18 of the Saharawi political prisoners known as Gdeim Izik Group, since 2016 is especially worried in face of the Pandemic with the fate of her clients.
The case of the Gdeim Izik Group is an example of the multiple violations of law of the Moroccan authorities in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, where arbitrary detention is the rule and not the exception when applied to the Saharawi population and human rights activists.
This group of men were abducted, detained and tortured during the dismantlement of the Gdeim Izik Camp and in its aftermath.
After one military trial and a civil trial, 8 of them have life sentences and the other 11 have sentences that vary between 20 and 30 years.
In the briefing note issued on 16 March 2020 by Penal Reform International we can read: “While legitimate measures in times of such an emergency are needed to prevent further outbreaks of COVID-19 in prisons, authorities need to ensure human rights are respected. In such anxious times it is even more pertinent that people are not cut off from the outside world, they do not end up in solitary confinement, and most of all they have access to information and adequate healthcare provision – equal of that available in the community.”
Maître Ouled, are you particularly worried with these prisoners facing the Covid 19 pandemia and the detention conditions they endure?
The current pandemic raises fears of worsening the situation of all Saharawi political prisoners and namely the prisoners I represent. They have all health problems following the torture they endured and no access to doctors which put them at a greater risk regarding Covid 19.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged that “governments should release anyone detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and those detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting opinions.
Once released, these people should undergo a medical examination and measures should be taken to ensure that they receive the necessary care and follow-up, including medical follow-up.”
This request was also relayed by the Moroccan Prison Observatory which called for the prison administration to release prisoners of conscience and activists considered peaceful. A “glaring lack of infrastructure and medical personnel” can indeed lead to a wide dissemination of COVID-19 in Moroccan prisons.
The conditions in the Moroccan prisons where my clients are detained lack the most basic hygienic measures.
Prisons are overcrowded as the Moroccan Prison Observatory already underlined which according to the World Health organisation is a factor of risk also.
I believe that these prisoners should be released and given the necessary and adequate health care that has been denied to them since their arrest.
Some of the Gdeim Izik Prisoners are in prolonged solitary confinement for several years now, does this aggravate the situation?