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Western Sahara

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

Moroccan law and practice apply. The Moroccan constitution and Moroccan law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically, criticism of Islam, of the institution of the monarchy, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Such criticism may result in prosecution under the law, with punishments ranging from fines to jail time, despite the freedom of expression the law stipulates. The law applies only to journalists accredited by the Ministry of Communication for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the law. Authorities were sensitive to any reporting not in line with the state’s official position on the status of Western Sahara, and they continued to expel, harass, or detain persons who wrote critically on the subject. According to the April UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara, the OHCHR continued to be concerned by reports alleging excessive surveillance of human rights defenders and journalists in Western Sahara. The October UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara also added that the OHCHR continued to receive reports of harassment and arbitrary arrests of journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders covering human rights violations. Amnesty International stated Sahrawi human rights activists remained subject to intimidation, questioning, arrest, and intense surveillance that occasionally amounted to harassment.

Freedom of Expression: Moroccan law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the Moroccan government’s position regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Sahrawi media outlets and bloggers with opposing views to those of the government often practiced self-censorship on these topics.

Amnesty International and other NGOs reported that on April 11, Moroccan Security Forces arrested Saharawi activist Ali al-Saadouni after he posted a video of himself displaying POLISARIO flags during a demonstration the previous day in Laayoune. On April 29, a Laayoune Court of First Instance sentenced Saadouni to seven months in prison and a fine of 5,000 MAD ($500) for assault and drug charges. AdalaUK NGO reported the public prosecutor did not present evidence to substantiate the charges. On June 13, the Laayoune Court of Appeals reduced the prison sentence to five months.

For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Moroccan government practices concerning press and media freedom, violence and harassment, libel or slander, and national security topics were the same as those in internationally recognized Morocco.

On February 16, Ana Cortes, a journalist working for a Spanish news outlet, was expelled from Western Sahara to Agadir after police interrupted her meeting with members of the al-Kassam Association of Laayoune, according to Reporters without Borders (RSF).

Nazha Khalidi, a citizen journalist affiliated with Equipe Media, a Sahrawi online news agency not registered with the government of Morocco, was arrested in December 2018 as she attempted to livestream on Facebook security forces dispersing a demonstration in Laayoune. Police confiscated the cellphone Khalidi used to record the footage. Human Rights Watch denounced the charges filed against Khalidi for falsifying professional credentials by engaging in journalistic activities without state-issued accreditation as a journalist. On May 19, Moroccan authorities denied entry into the territory for five Spanish lawyers and two Norwegian human rights activists attempting to observe the Court of First Instance hearing initially scheduled for May 20. On July 8, the Laayoune Court of First Instance convicted Khalidi of falsifying professional credentials as a journalist and fined her 4,000 MAD ($400).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Moroccan law and practice apply. Self-censorship and government restrictions remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.

The government of Morocco enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Communication before meeting with political activists.

Local and international media, including satellite television and POLISARIO-controlled television and radio from the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, were available in the territory.

For more information on these subheadings, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.

Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.

The government generally tolerated but did not recognize local NGOs that exhibited proindependence or pro-POLISARIO views.

The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The Moroccan government cooperated with the United Nations and permitted requested visits. Nonetheless, in April the UN secretary-general urged the state and other parties to address outstanding human rights problems and enhance cooperation with the OHCHR.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The same government human rights bodies operated in the territory as in internationally recognized Morocco. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.

Via its regional offices in Dakhla and Laayoune, the CNDH continued a range of activities, including monitoring demonstrations, visiting prisons and medical centers, and organizing capacity-building activities for various stakeholders. It also maintained contact with unrecognized NGOs. The CNDH also occasionally investigated cases raised by unrecognized NGOs, especially those that drew internet or international media attention. The CNDH operated in conformity with the Principles of Paris, according to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, which recognized it in 2015 as a “class A national human rights institution” within the UN framework. In April Amnesty International raised concerns over the CNDH’s independence and impartiality since its president and a third of its leadership are appointed by the king of Morocco.

In April Amnesty International reported the government expelled or denied access to Western Sahara to several international observers and lawyers. The April UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara cited that between October 2018 and the end of March, 15 persons were deported from or denied entry to Western Sahara. As of August several human rights organizations and the press reported that authorities denied access to more than a dozen foreigners traveling to Laayoune who were associated with human rights organizations or the press.

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