Mustapha Ould Sidi Mouloud, 42, former Inspector General of the Judicial Police of the Polisario, was kidnapped on Sept. 21 because he spoke out in favor of Morocco’s compromise autonomy plan to end the 35 year-long-old Western Sahara conflict.
Early in August Mustapha Ould Sidi Mouloud gave a press conference in Smara in the Southern Provinces denouncing the unbearable living conditions of the people living in the Tindouf camps. The camps, located in Southwestern Algeria, are run by the Polisario Front. The Saharawi people living there are reportedly denied the right to seek citizenship or refugee status. Recently, more than 1,500 people escaped to Morocco and many described abuse, slavery and deprivation of food in the camps.
Mustapha Ould Sidi Mouloud stated his determination to return to the camps in order show his support for the Moroccan plan for autonomy, which was a compromise negotiated between the Polisario and Morocco with the help of the U.N. It was seen as a solution to the long-running conflict which was sparked by Morocco’s reintegration in the Western Sahara, after being colonized by Spain. Moroccan forces and the Polisario guerrillas had fought for years until the two sides agrees to a ceasefire in 1991.
Under the plan for autonomy, Rabat, the Moroccan capital, pledged to grant Western Sahara widespread autonomy, which allowed the Southern Provinces the right to raise taxes and deal with regional issues and have their own parliament.
But upon his arrival in the Tindouf camps Sept. 21, Mustapha Ould Sidi Mouloud was arrested. His disappearance engendered an outcry from the international community, namely Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which vehemently condemned the abduction and expressed their concern for Mustapha. His health was believed to be worsening daily, following the injury he suffered when he was shot by the Polisario’s militia during his abduction.
Last month, Mustapha’s father and brother decided to take a courageous step, traveling to the United States to ask for help from the government, the Congress and human rights organizations to plead for the release of Mustapha as well as help to clarify his fate.
Mustapha’s father fought tirelessly for his son’s release, traveling not only to Washington D.C. but also to Madrid and Algiers. In Algiers he was detained and interrogated for a whole day before being released.
After continuous pressure from the international community, the international human rights organizations and the local Moroccan NGOs, Mustapha Ould Sidi Mouloud was released by the Polisario on Nov. 30. He is now in Mauritania and is not allowed to go back to the Tindouf camps where his wife lives with his newborn baby girl whom he has not still seen .
The release of Mustapha Ould Sidi Mouloud is an example of what activism can achieve. Celebrating the 2010 Human Rights Day is an important moment for all of us, highlighting the values that we care about: freedom, democracy and human rights. They are the very same values that Mustapha Ould Sidi Mouloud and other Human Right activists are fighting for.
On Saturday we will have the opportunity to hear the stories from human rights defenders from all walks of life.
Yasmine Hasnaoui is an Amnesty International member who is a professor languages and Moroccan culture in the Department of Asian Languages and Civilization at Amherst College