Western Sahara War · History of Morocco · Spanish Sahara · Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic · Spanish Morocco · Colonial wars in Morocco · Moroccan Army of Liberation · Ifni War · ICJ Advisory Opinion · UN in Spanish Sahara · Madrid Accords · Green March · Berm (Western Sahara) · Human rights in Western Sahara
The Independence Intifada (intifada is Arabic for "uprising") is a Saharawi Polisario activist coinage for a series of disturbances, demonstrations and riots that broke out in May 2005 in the Moroccan-held parts of Western Sahara. This event has also been called "The El-Aaiun Intifada" by the same sources. International coverage of the disturbances has been limited and Moroccan official sources have downplayed the events.
Western Sahara, formerly Spanish Sahara, was annexed by Morocco in 1975, as Spain pulled out. A war with the Polisario Front, which claimed to represent the indigenous Sahrawi population, and was backed by neighboring Algeria, ensued. In 1991 a cease-fire was agreed upon, on the condition of a referendum on self-determination (including the options of independence or integration into Morocco). Since 1991 the terms of a referendum have been subject to years of dispute between the parties, although the cease-fire continues to hold despite remaining tensions. Morocco controls the majority of the territory, with Polisario forces controlling a rump. A UN mission MINURSO mission patrols the demarcation line.
Sahrawi political activity in the Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara remains severely restricted, and police crackdowns and forced disappearances were a frequent response to civil protest. The political climate gradually relaxed in the 1990s, after the cease-fire, and following considerable liberalization in Morocco proper. Since political liberalisation, intermittent protests have broken out and pro-Polisario groups have declaring minor "intifadas" in 1999 and 2000, often resulting in dozens of demonstrators being arrested.
Demonstrations began in May 2005 in El Aaiún, after relatives protesting the transfer of a Sahrawi prisoner accused of drug dealing and insulting the Moroccan monarchy to a prison in Agadir were violently dispersed by police, provoking further demonstrations over the next several days. Protests spread by end May to other towns in the Western Sahara, such as Smara and Dakhla, and were accompanied demonstrations by Sahrawi students living in Moroccan cities such as Agadir, Casablanca, Fes, Marrakech and Rabat. Moroccan public security units quelled the disturbances, although some subsequent pro-independence demonstrations have subsequently flaired up, most recently reported in November 2005. On October 30, 2005, a first fatality was recorded when 31-year old Lembarki Hamdi died after what human rights organizations claimed was police brutality during his arrest, although Moroccan authorities attributed his death to an accident.
Over a hundred pro-Polisario Sahrawi protesters were reported arrested by Moroccan authorities by international human rights, and approximately thirty demonstrators and well-known Sahrawi human rights-activists have been imprisoned after summary trials. Among them are the former political prisoner Ali Salem Tamek (who did not parttake directly in any demonstrations, but was arrested when returning from abroad), human rights-activist Mohamed Elmoutaoikil, and Aminatou Haidar, a former disappeared. An international campaign for her release was signed by 178 members of the European Parliament, and she was nominated as a candidate for the Sakharov Prize. A 50-day hunger strike of all the arrested Sahrawis put the health of several at risk, and the action was aborted.
On 14 December 2005, 14 pro-independence Sahrawis and human-rights activists, including the activists mentioned above and most of the remaining pro-Polisario Sahrawi political leadership, were sentenced to between 6 months and 3 years in prison by an El-Aaiún court, on charges of disturbing public order, membership of illegal associations, incitement to unrest, damaging public property and rioting. They denied the charges of using violence. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had expressed serious concern over the trials, pointing to reports of torture and previous abuse of some of the prisoners.
All of the activists were released in early 2006 by royal pardon. Most of them keep openly promoting independentist views, as well in the Western Sahara as in Morocco and abroad.
Several international human rights-organizations have shown interest in alleged Moroccan abuse of Sahrawi demonstrators. Amnesty International has demanded an investigation into reports of torture of prisoners and called for fair trials, and the release of political prisoners. This has been echoed by Human Rights Watch and others.
Morocco has limited journalists' and diplomats' access to the territory, claiming that their public presence is used by pro-Polisario activists to trigger more riots. Investigative missions from European countries have been denied access to the territory, including several high-ranking parliamentary delegations and foreign ambassadors to Morocco. Several foreign journalists, mainly European, but also al Jazeera correspondents, were expelled after interviewing protesters, and others have been prevented from visiting it. In November 2005, Moroccan authorities shut down a number of pro-independence or pro-Polisario Internet sites. This was condemned by Reporters Without Borders as an example of internet censorship.
The European Parliament voted 98 in favor, 1 abstention and 0 votes against an October 2005 resolution that "deplored" expulsions of journalists covering the uprising and demanded the "immediate release" of political prisoners.