Visiting journalist speaks about freedom for occupied Western Sahara

June 19, 2024
Mohamed Mayara, visiting Western Sahara journalist and trade unionist (left) with Kamal Fadel, Western Sahara representative for Australia and New Zealand (centre) at the forum on June 17. Photo: Western Sahara Down Under/Facebook

Mohamed Mayara, a visiting Western Sahara journalist and trade unionist, told a public forum on June 17 that the Moroccan regime was imposing a “systematic policy of repression”.

“Life under occupation in Western Sahara, and the pathway to freedom” was the theme of the forum organised by the Australia Western Sahara Association and supported by the Maritime Union of Australia, Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA and Green Left.

Mayara, who has been jailed, tortured and persecuted for his work, is on a national tour. He is the founder of the media collective Equipe Media, which documents the Morocco’s repression.

Described as “Africa’s last colony”, Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1976. Mayara recounted the history of Morocco’s colonisation of Western Sahara and the Saharawi people’s struggle for independence.

The Saharawi people’s liberation struggle has been led by the Polisario Front.

A 1991 United Nations-brokered ceasefire in the armed conflict in the territory ended in 2020, with the Moroccan regime implementing a “systematic policy of repression” including the torture, arrests and imprisonment” of activists.

Western Sahara is now divided by a huge wall, protected by Moroccan troops and millions of mines. Many Saharawri people are confined to refugee camps on the southern side.

Many political prisoners have been “disappeared” and the regime has built new prisons.

Mayara said international solidarity remains vital as the Saharawi people campaign for their right to self-determination and independence through a free and fair referendum.

Ntina Tzouvala from the College of Law at the Australian National University (ANU) spoke about the Saharawi independence struggle through the lens of international law.

While the UN has recognised Western Sahara as an “occupied territory”, it has not been “allowed to become sovereign”.

Since the Saharawi nation is recognised internationally as having the right to self-determination, he said Australia has a “responsibility under international law” not to engage in trade deals with Morocco, involving Western Saharan territory.

Kamal Fadel, the Western Sahara representative for Australia and New Zealand, said the occupied territory is important for Morocco because of its “strategic position and its abundant resources, including oil, gas, fish and rare earth minerals” which multinational corporations want access to.

The Moroccan government has powerful friends, Fadel said, with former President Donald Trump being the first country to “recognise Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara. Israel now has strong ties to the Moroccan regime.

“The Moroccan government can’t allow a free referendum on independence as they know the inevitable result. But the Saharawi people are not going to give up.”

Australian companies have been importing phosphate and other minerals, although he said pressure had worked to stop some.

“We are calling on Andrew Forrest and Fortescue not to go ahead with importing renewable resources from Western Sahara,” Fadel said.

“We can learn much from the Palestinian struggle and together we can build a stronger solidarity collaboration between the two peoples,” Fadel concluded.

[For more information on the Western Sahara movement visit Equipe Media.]

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