Afrol News: Moroccan prisoner turns hailed ambassador
- Moroccan prisoner turns hailed ambassador
2 Nov. 2002
By Rainer Chr. Hennig
afrol News editor
One year ago, Sidi Mohammed Daddach "sat on death row" in a Moroccan
high security prison expecting "to be executed" each an every day.
Today, the 45-year-old Sahrawi is in Bergen, Norway, being hailed as
ambassador of the fight for human rights. He barely made it,
Tomorrow, the ex-political prisoner is to receive the prestigious
Rafto Award - the "Nobel Price" of human rights - at a Bergen
ceremony. All together, Mr Daddach has spent 24 years in Moroccan
prisons for his views on the occupation of his home country, Western
Sahara. And all this time, he has fought for the rights of the
"numerous" political prisoners in Morocco.
Today, Mr Daddach is at a Bergen hospital to have a full medical
check; the first since he was a teenager. "When I was captured by
the Moroccans, I was injured, but through all those years in prison,
I was denied medical treatment even though I pleaded for it many
times," he comments.
The ambitious programme for the Bergen visit of the marked Sahrawi
however remained unsure until the last moment. Only on Tuesday, the
Rafto Foundation was notified of Mr Daddach's arrival. Over one
month of lobbying had produced the result; a Moroccan passport for
the Sahrawi ex-prisoner. He had been soliciting it since February.
The Moroccan government strictly guards its passports, and political
dissidents especially cannot expect to have one issued, according to
Amnesty International. Mr Daddach in so far was an exception; "In
the end, the Norwegian government and the Norwegian Embassy in Rabat
were instrumental in securing Daddach's trip to Norway," one of the
organisers says. They have been barred from giving more details.
The Sahrawi expressed his appreciation already on arrival in Norway:
"Now I finally feel for the first time that I'm out of the prison!"
Departing from Morocco as a "supporter of terrorist groups," he
arrived Norway Friday as a prominent symbol of the fight against
repressive governments. Yesterday, he was received as a state guest
by the Lord Mayor of Bergen city, Mr Kristian Helland, who expressed
his "deep respect" for Mr Daddach. Mr Helland further articulated
the "hope that this prize will help you and your people in Western
Sahara so that the Sahrawi people one day can be a free nation".
The Lord Mayor of Bergen pointed at exactly the issue that is
bothering the Moroccan government; the Rafto Award for Mr Daddach is
not only an acknowledgement of the laureate's human rights
engagement, it is much more an acknowledgement of the Sahrawis'
fight for independence and an end to Moroccan occupation of their
territory. Mr Arne Lynngård, leader of the Rafto Board, confirmed to
afrol News that his foundation wanted to "increase international
focus on the rightful struggle for Sahrawi independence."
Mr Daddach is an ambassador of Sahrawi independence. He was a member
of the POLISARIO liberation movement when he first was arrested, 19
years old. For that, he spent 24 years in Moroccan prisons,
including "14 years on death row."
The laureate has not changed his mind on Sahrawi independence. He
accepted the Rafto Prize as "a truthful honour to the Sahrawi people
and all those peoples who fought and fight for freedom and human
dignity." For the Sahrawi, "there is no alternative to the
referendum" [over independence, which the UN is trying to organise
since 1992], he said in his speech to the Rafto Symposium in Bergen
Asked today whether he still was a member of POLISARIO, Mr Daddach
diplomatically answers "I am Sahrawi and the POLISARIO represents
the Sahrawi people; in that way, we are all member of POLISARIO."
Asked whether he defends Western Sahara's independence, he again
turns diplomatic and says "it is the referendum I defend, and nobody
knows the result of that. I think that must be a normal position for
Sahrawis and Moroccans alike."
Now, that might sound very normal, given that Morocco is signatory
to an agreement that provides for a referendum in Western Sahara.
Fact is however that people still are imprisoned in Morocco for
being only POLISARIO sympathisers or for defending the Sahrawis'
right to decide for themselves.
- Having spent so many years in prison for the same "crime", are you
not afraid of repeating such positions, which could lead to
prosecution in Morocco? afrol News asked Mr Daddach.
- I defend these positions, he answers resolutely, "and I do not
care what might happen to me as a consequence of this." He says this
in a telephone interview, seated in a taxi bound for the Bergen
airport. In fifteen minutes, he will see his mother for the first
time in 27 years. He knows the personal costs of imprisonment.
Sidi Daddach was separated from his mother as she fled to the Dakhla
refugee camp in the Algerian desert. While he ended up in Moroccan
prisons, his mother has kept lobbying for him, sending letters to
the UN Secretary-General and to other institutions.
As the possibility of coming to Bergen was improving, he expressed
his strongest desire to the Rafto Foundation; if they could help him
reunite with his mother. The Foundation contacted the Norwegian
Foreign Office, which was able to cut through Algerian bureaucracy.
Two days ago, Sidi Daddach's mother obtained an Algerian passport.
Yesterday, she obtained a visa to go to Norway. Today, she was given
a ticket; Tindouf - Algiers - Lyon - Amsterdam - Bergen; quite a
journey for an old woman who "never has travelled before, not even
taken the bus," the organisers explain. Now they are united in
Bergen, however, the two Sahrawis with one Moroccan and one Algerian
Norwegian Support Committee for Western Sahara
*** Referendum now! ***