Western Sahara activist arrives in Spain for medical tests following months-long house arrest

Western Sahara activist arrives in Spain for medical tests following months-long house arrest
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Sultana Khaya, a Sahrawi activist, arrived in Spain for medical treatment following months of house arrest, where she had suffered "countless human rights abuses", according to her legal team.
A Sahrawi woman holds a picture of independence activist Sultana Khaya, who sustained injuries during house arrest by Moroccan authorities [Getty]

Human rights defender Sultana Khaya arrived in southeastern Spain on Friday where she will receive medical treatment for injuries sustained during 19 months of house arrest in Western Sahara, the Polisario Front said.

Her arrival comes barely two months after Spain ended a year-long diplomatic crisis with Morocco over disputed Western Sahara by agreeing to recognise Rabat's autonomy plan for the territory.

A well-known rights activist who supports independence for Western Sahara, Khaya had been held under house arrest by Moroccan forces in the city since November 2020.

Her mother and two sisters were also detained with her.

She flew into the port city of Alicante on Friday evening from the Canary Islands where she had arrived on June 1 after finally being allowed to leave her home in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara.

Abdulah Arabi, envoy to Spain for the Polisario Front, Western Sahara's independence movement, told AFP Khaya had arrived in Alicante "where she will undergo medical tests".

He did not say how long she would stay in Spain.

Footage on social media showed her arrival at the airport, where an excited crowd waved flags and chanted slogans, and ululated with joy.

In a statement, her legal team said she had suffered "countless human rights abuses" while under arrest and was in Spain to seek medical treatment for her injuries.

"She was raped three times by Moroccan security agents, repeatedly tortured, threatened with death and disappearance," it said, listing a string of other abuses.

There was no immediate comment from Moroccan authorities.

Her plight has been recognised by the US State Department and many global rights groups including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Front Line Defenders among others.

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Abuses

Amnesty said last year Moroccan security forces had "repeatedly assaulted Sultana Khaya, members of her family and their visitors since the start of the house arrest" with abuses including rape and sexual harassment.

The London-based watchdog said their detention was part of "a wider crackdown by the Moroccan authorities on Saharawi activists and critical voices within Western Sahara" which escalated following clashes between Morocco and the Polisario Front in November 2020.

Morocco sees Western Sahara as an integral part of its territory.

But the Polisario Front has long fought for the independence of Western Sahara, a desert region bigger than Britain that was a Spanish colony until 1975.

Spain's U-turn on Western Sahara followed a diplomatic crisis which erupted in April 2021 when Madrid agreed to allow Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali to be treated for Covid-19 at a Spanish hospital.

The move infuriated Rabat.

Khaya heads the "League for the Defence of Human Rights and against Plunder of Natural Resources" and also belongs to ISACOM, which advocates the right to non-violent self-determination for people of Western Sahara.