Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for December 11th, 2009

Aminatou Haidar’s Right to Be Free

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th December, 2009

Yesterday was International Human Rights Day and as I walked across Trafalgar Square at luncthime from the pomp and ceremony of the Vin d’Honneur for the new South African High Commissioner at South Africa House to a similar event for the new Czech Ambassador at the Athenaeum in Pall Mall, I passed by two human rights demonstrations outside the National Gallery. The first was by people protesting about the People’s Republic of China’s oppression of followers of Fa Lun Gong, while the second highlighted the case of Aminatou Haidar, the Sahrawi human rights campaigner who is on hunger strike at an airport in the Canary Islands. By coincidence, Lamine Baali, the Polisario representative in London had cornered me about her case at the South African reception. Then this moning I was pleased to see a related comment piece by Paul Laverty and Ken Loach in The Guardian. For those who are not familiar with the case, Ms Haidar was prevented from returning to her home town of Layoun in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara on her way back from receiving an award in the United States because she refused to fill in her nationality as ‘Moroccan’ on her landing card. She was thus deported to the Canary Islands are is staging her protest to be allowed to return to her family, but as a proud Sahrawi.

Morocco and Mauritania occupied the Western Sahara after Spain left its former colony in the mid-1970s, though later the Mauritanians were defeated by the Polisario Sahrawi fighters and withdrew, leaving the territory divided (literally, by an earth wall). I slept under the stars in the desert there the night I heard on the BBC World Service of Nelson Mandela’s release from jail in South Africa in 1990. It would be wonderful if tonight I could hear of Aminatou Haidar’s safe return, as her hunger strike is taking its toll. Meanwhile, the Spanish (for all their concerns not to offend the Moroccans) really must accept their moral responsibility to get this matter resolved.

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