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© Antony Jean

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  • Middle East and North Africa

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Last updated: 2 Jul

Human rights defender's story: Naâma Asfari

Story behind

Naâma Asfari is a Sahrawi human rights defender who has campaigned for the self-determination of Western Sahara. The territory is a former Spanish colony that remains under Moroccan occupation despite a 1992 UN ruling for a referendum on independence, which has yet to be complied with.

In a heavily criticised trial held in 2013, Asfari was sentenced to 30 years in prison for his alleged involvement in the murder of 11 Moroccan soldiers during a 2010 operation that saw the brutal dismantling of a large camp set up in Gdim Izik by Sahrawi civil society organisations to protest against Morocco's occupation of the region.

What happened

After being initially overturned, and following a second trial in 2017, the verdict was definitively confirmed by the Moroccan Court of Cassation in Rabat on 25 November 2020. Asfari has been detained since 2010 and is currently imprisoned in the north of Morocco in Kenitra, 2000km from his family.

In November 2016, the Committee against Torture (CAT) found that Morocco had breached six provisions of the Convention against Torture and had committed acts of torture against Asfari. The Committee requested that Morocco provide redress and compensation to Asfari and that authorities 'refrain from any form of pressure, intimidation or reprisals [...] and enable the complainant to receive visits from his family in prison'.

Following the CAT's decision, the complainant was subjected to a range of vexatious actions, and his relatives were not able to visit him in prison.

Asfari's wife, French citizen Claude Mangin-Asfari, was able to visit her husband on 14 and 15 January 2019. The resumption of visits followed an intense campaign led by Claude Mangin-Asfari since she was banned from entering Morocco in October 2016.

She went on a hunger strike for 30 days to protest the ban, stopping only after having obtained the commitment of the French government to mediate with the Moroccan authorities on the resumption of visits. However, Claude Mangin-Asfari attempted to visit Asfari in early July 2019 and was again denied entry. A large number of books she sent to him in 2020 were returned with no reason.

They are only allowed two five-minute phone calls each week. Asfari has not been permitted to visit an ophthalmologist for nine years. He is not allowed to go to the large courtyard where there is sun, he is not allowed to go to the gym or the library. Humiliating searches can take place at any time.

In July 2021, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, highlighted Naâma Asfari's situation, speaking out against Asfari and others’ treatment by Moroccan authorities, calling it a ‘systematic and relentless targeting of human rights defenders in retaliation for exercising their rights to freedom of association and expression to promote human rights in Western Sahara’.

"I'm fighting for my freedom and for that of my enemy," Asfari told French newspaper 'L’Humanité' in October 2021, in an interview in which he looked back at his struggle and his years in prison.

What do we want

ISHR calls on the government of Morocco to take specific actions to resolve this case, to publicly commit to protecting human rights defenders and condemn any intimidation or reprisals against them.

What do we want

ISHR calls on the government of Morocco to take specific actions to resolve this case, to publicly commit to protecting human rights defenders and condemn any intimidation or reprisals against them.

How you can take action

Look through our 2021 campaign to learn more about ISHR's work to #EndReprisals against human rights defenders and how you can help us ensure they are able to work safely and effectively wherever they are, including unhindered engagement with the UN and other major international human rights bodies.