Many Amnesty International members have long experience with the challenge of opposing state-sponsored torture in other countries. But when human rights activists in North Carolina found that a trail of torture led to their own backdoor, they learned that talking to neighbors about human rights abuses is just as difficult as challenging a foreign government.
The Washington Post last week featured a story, “Hangar 3′s Mystery” about the work of North Carolina Stop Torture Now to document the activities of a small, nominally private air charter company, Aero Contractors, whose headquarters are at an airfield in Smithfield, North Carolina.
Late last week, the Moroccan King pardoned prisoner of conscience Chekib El-Khiari, who was serving a three year prison sentence for speaking out against government corruption.
Amnesty suspects that the charges against Check El-Khiari were politically motivated, as he had brought allegations against Moroccan officials in connection to a drug ring. Jailed since June 2009, Chekib El-Khiari was greeted by family and friends upon release.
The pardon came as part of a wider movement that commuted or shortened the sentences of 190 prisoners in Morocco, 96 of whom were reportedly released.
Hayat Erguibi. Photo courtesy of the Sahrawi Organization of Human Rights Defenders
Many young women in Western Sahara are believed to have suffered sexual assaults and other abuses at the hands of Moroccan occupying forces and police, but Hayat Erguibi is different. She refused to remain silent.
Given the stigmatism of rape or molestation within the conservative Islamic culture of the Western Saharans or Sahrawis, such humiliation at the hands of foreign occupiers prevents victims from stepping forward. It has also been charged that women are threatened by Moroccan forces if they dare to speak out.
Erguibi so dared. On Feb. 24, she went to a local human rights organization a statement detailing accusations against Moroccan police of detaining, intimidating and sexually violating her on Feb. 22. A Norwegian NGO later confirmed the story.
But Erguibi didn’t stop there. She has allowed local Western Saharan rights groups to disseminate her photo and a video of her testimony was recently posted (with Spanish subtitles). In her testimony, she recalled that Moroccan police threatened to kill her if she publicized her attack.
Amnesty USA has long been concerned about Moroccan abuses in the part of Western Sahara under its control. Amnesty’s position with respect to the Western Saharan territorial dispute between Morocco and the pro-independence Polisario Front is neutral.
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