The students aged between 17 and 24 are from occupied Western Sahara and were travelling together with students from Morocco where they were all due to attend a two week residential course in Oxford exploring ways of resolving a conflict that has gone on for over 34 years. The course run by the British-based organisation, Talk Together, aims to take young people from either side of an ongoing conflict and challenge them to generate new ways forward. The Moroccan students pulled out from travelling to England on the day before they were due to travel, all of them citing family problems for their sudden withdrawal.
Eyewitnesses reported that the arrest of the Oxford Six was brutal and although most mobile phones were confiscated campaigners were able to speak to Elassri Mohamed Fadel, 24, while he was in the police car. “We were beaten with batons” he whispered down the phone, “Beaten very badly”. Last year reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International expressed concerns about human rights violations by the Moroccan state against Saharawis who take part in non-violent protests. These have regularly been violently broken up by Moroccan forces and numerous people have been arrested, tortured or ‘disappeared’.
Earlier in the day another one of the students, Amaidane Maimouna,17, said they understood the risk they were taking by staging a hunger strike but that they were determined to continue with their protest for as long as it takes. “Either we will go to the UK or we will go to hospital” she said, “There is no third way”. She hadn’t considered the possiblity of being taken to prison.
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Western Sahara said:
“We are deeply concerned with the latest developments. With representatives of Morocco and the Polisario Front meeting next week in Vienna to discuss the resumption of negotiations it would be a cruel irony if these young people from both sides of this conflict were to miss out on an opportunity to share ideas and develop greater understanding because they were in detention.”
Contact press office on 07799650791 or 01622 747885 or 00213 776 889167
To contact the students directly try: 00 21267.22.539.53 (phone ‘engaged’)
Visit www.freesahara.ning.com or www.wsahara.org.uk or www.upes.org
The OXFORD SIX are:
• El Haouasi Nguia (19, female), Amaidane Maimouna (17, female), Hayat Rguibi (19 female ), Elassri Mohamed Fadel (24; male) Razouk Choummad (20; male) Mohamed Daanoun (20; male).
• The students were due to attend the workshop from 5th – 18th August in St Edward’s School, Oxford. The course will still go ahead with students from the UK, Norway, the Philippines and the refugee camps in Tindouf.
• The project is Funded by the EU Youth In Action programme and the British Council
• A 2008 report by Human Rights Watch found that Morocco has violated the rights to expression, association, and assembly in Western Sahara.
• A 2008 Amnesty International report found that “politically motivated administrative impediments have been used to prevent human rights groups obtaining legal registration and curtailing their scope of activities.”
• The dispute in Western Sahara is one of the longest running and most forgotten conflicts in the world. The country has been subject to an occupation by neighbouring Morocco despite rulings by the International Court of Justice and over 100 UN Resolutions. For the past 34 years 165,000 Saharawi refugees have been forced to live in refugee camps in the Algerian desert.
For additional information about the Talk Together workshop contact Melissa Mehta on 07772 488373 or Melissa@TalkTogether.info .
free western sahara network