Naâma Asfari Saharawi political prisoner
He was kidnapped from one of his friends in Laâyoune, in the occupied territories of Western Sahara, on November 7, 2010, the day before the violent dismantling by the Moroccan authorities of the protest camp organized by Sahrawi civil society in Gdeim Izik. Human rights defender, activist for the right to self-determination, Naâma Asfari, with twenty-four of his companions, had been accused of the murders of several police auxiliaries participating in this repressive operation, while he was no longer on the premises. In 2013, at the end of an unfair trial, a military court sentenced these activists without evidence to terms ranging from twenty years in prison to life imprisonment. Three years later, this verdict was overturned under a reform prohibiting the appearance of civilians before a military court. Above all, the UN Committee against Torture condemned Morocco in the Asfari case by pointing to a conviction pronounced on the basis of confessions extracted under torture. Three years later, a new trial, civil this time, and a new judicial masquerade. Verdict: thirty years in prison for Naâma Asfari and heavy sentences for his comrades. All claim their innocence.
How are you doing ? What are your conditions of detention?
Naâma Asfari The challenge, above all, is not to help them fulfill their objective, which is to put us under pressure until depression, until psychic destruction. We try to play sports every day, I find refuge in reading. I am imprisoned in a small cell of nine square meters: with time and a little imagination, I imagine it as a villa. Fortunately, we are in single cells. The advantage is that I had books when I arrived here, but unfortunately I cannot receive new ones. I haven’t received a visit for two years, and the books my wife mailed to me have been returned to her. We have two outings a day in the courtyard: one hour in the morning, one hour in the afternoon, and there we stay between us, the six Sahrawi political detainees. We are not allowed to meet other prisoners. This is difficult, this kind of isolation. But we manage to manage: we form a small community. I do jogging, gymnastics, outside or in the cell: it’s the only way to maintain a relationship with my body. Reading and sport help me to hold on, to preserve my memory, it’s a work on myself. I try to live this experience as a resistance fighter fighting for convictions, for a goal that no one can take from me. This inner experience of freedom is what gives me strength and here gives meaning to life. I cultivate the awareness of the reasons that brought me here: I am here because I am fighting for my freedom and that of others. This is not an ordinary question, it is an existential question.
What echoes from the world are reaching you in your prison?
Naâma Asfari There is television, but it only broadcasts Moroccan channels. My wife, Claude, tells me a lot of things on the phone, she is my window on the world. It is like my extension into the outside world. I know that we are engaged in a fight which is beyond us as persons. By defending my freedom, I challenge an authoritarian system that perpetuates an illegal occupation. My fight for freedom can help the other, my enemy.
How do you keep faith in this fight, when the conflict in Western Sahara has been bogged down for several decades?
Naâma Asfari I am continuing what I have experienced since my childhood. I am thinking in particular of my father, who for sixteen years endured the ordeal of enforced disappearance in much harsher conditions than mine. He was among the hundreds of Saharawi disappeared in the 1970s. A survivor, he was released in 1991, at the time of the ceasefire. I was 21, hadn’t seen him since I was 5. These experiences forged me, they made me grow. I still face today what has hurt me since my childhood. Nevertheless, I managed to register my name, that of my family, in an official United Nations document condemning this State which has done me so much harm. It relieved me. The question that is put to me today is how to hold out, to pass on the torch of the struggle to those who tomorrow will still resist in the name of this ideal of freedom.
Former United States President Donald Trump, in defiance of international law, recognized Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, in return for the normalization of relations between Rabat and Tel Aviv. How do you see this bargaining?
Naâma Asfari Morocco is playing its last card with this recognition of Israel. In a complicated international configuration, and at a time of “neither war nor peace”, we have succeeded in putting this regime in front of a failure: it cannot renew its system of domination over the Sahrawis. With Gdeim Izik, we have shown that the Moroccan power has no legitimacy in the eyes of the populations of the occupied territories.
Your French wife, Claude Mangin-Asfari, expelled from Morocco several times, banned from visiting, was the subject, in France, of close cybersurveillance via the Israeli software Pegasus. How did you react when you learned of this international spy scandal?
Naâma Asfari This shows how weak this system is: it attacks an isolated woman, all alone, without weapons, who only legally demands respect for her right to visit her husband. How could an ordinary person like Claude be placed under surveillance by the Moroccan security services? This proves that our fight has devastating effects on this system. We are ordinary people, who are neither structured by the ideological apparatus of the Polisario Front, nor by the Algerian system. We, the people of the occupied territories, have been structured by the harm done to us by the Moroccan regime for more than forty years.
What can be the outcome of this conflict of decolonization?
Naâma Asfari In Western Sahara, a liberation movement was able, in exile, to manage a diplomatic and political struggle and arms alongside. It is not easy, especially when it has been going on for decades. The Polisario Front took up this challenge, it succeeded in this experience of thirty years of “neither war nor peace”. But also, in another way, he was able to highlight this weakness of the United Nations, this complicity of the great powers with Morocco. What is affected in this complicity are the universal principles. But the Sahrawi question is like the Palestinian question: these peoples exist, they resist. No one can take away from the Palestinians and the Saharawis their right to self-determination, to independence. These peoples are there, no one will be able to throw them into the sea.