Amnesty demands Morocco investigate 'assaults' on five women Sahrawi activists

Amnesty demands Morocco investigate 'assaults' on five women Sahrawi activists
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Amnesty International has urged Morocco to investigate allegations that security forces assaulted women activists in the country, two of whom say they were sexually assaulted.
The rights group alleged that Moroccan police and plainclothes agents beat the women with sticks and punched and kicked them [Getty]

Human rights group Amnesty International Friday urged Moroccan authorities to investigate urgently allegations that security forces last month assaulted five women activists who support independence for disputed Western Sahara.

Two of the women reported that they were sexually assaulted, Amnesty said.

The rights group alleged that Moroccan police and plainclothes agents beat the women with sticks and punched and kicked them, leading to one of them suffering broken bones.

The five activists "were targeted after their participation in peaceful protests for Sahrawi self-determination," Amnesty said in a statement.

The demonstrations took place on April 15-16 in Boujdour, Western Sahara, and the women were allegedly targeted in separate incidents.

Conflict in Western Sahara -- a territory that boasts rich Atlantic fishing waters and access to West African markets -- has for decades pitted Morocco against the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi independence movement.

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"Five weeks on from these appalling attacks, the Moroccan authorities have yet to lift a finger to investigate," said Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, Amna Guellai.

The women had publicly expressed support for fellow independence activist Sultana Khaya, who has been under house arrest along with her family since November 2020.

Amnesty also alleged that Khaya has suffered numerous abuses at the hands of Moroccan security forces since then, including rape.

"We are urging Moroccan authorities to end the harassment and violence against Sahrawi activists, and to launch immediate, impartial investigations into all allegations of torture" by Moroccan security forces, Guellai said.

There was no immediate comment from Moroccan authorities.

Western Sahara is 80 percent controlled by Morocco but considered a "non-autonomous territory" by the UN.

Colonial power Spain withdrew in 1975 but the Polisario waged a long armed struggle for independence from Morocco before agreeing a ceasefire in 1991 on the promise of an independence referendum that has never materialised.