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Sahrawi women marching for International Women's Day beaten by Moroccan forces

A Sahrawi woman is pictured in this 27 February 2011 photo holding her national flag in celebration of the independence movement for Western Sahara
A Sahrawi woman is pictured in this 27 February 2011 photo holding her national flag in celebration of the independence movement for Western Sahara

REUTERS/Juan Medina

On 8 March, Moroccan security forces dispersed a peaceful march led by Sahrawi women in the city of Laayoune in Western Sahara to mark International Women's Day. The Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) denounced the Moroccan forces' use of excessive force in response to the march.

Once the Moroccan authorities became aware of the march being organised, they blocked the streets and surrounded the meet-up location with police cars in order to prevent the arrival of demonstrators.

As protesters approached the scene, police officers seized some women's banner leading the women to chant slogans denouncing the ban on their protest and calling for the right of self-determination of the Sahrawi people. In return, security forces violently broke up the demonstration leaving many of the women present injured.

Two Sahrawi journalists were detained that day in clear violation of the right to free expression. Khaled Rouhi and Mohamed Lafkir Laghdaf were arrested on the roof of a building facing the agreed upon meet-up location where they stood in order to film the protest. The two journalists were then sent to the judicial police headquarters in the Western Sahara. They were kept in detention for 11 hours then released.

"Attacking a women's peaceful march and arresting journalists trying to cover it is a grave violation committed by the Moroccan authorities against Sahrawi rights," stated ANHRI. "Such violations reflect the mounting use of repression in dealing with peaceful demonstrations making Morocco a country that operates using repression and the silencing of critical voices."

ANHRI calls upon the Moroccan authorities to halt the use of repression and the torturing of activists and opponents. It also calls for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience.

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