Western Sahara

Polisario leader questioned in Spain over torture allegations

Brahim Ghali, leader of Polisario Front, was allowed into Spain to be treated for Covid-19
Brahim Ghali, leader of Polisario Front, was allowed into Spain to be treated for Covid-19 RYAD KRAMDI AFP/File

The leader of Western Sahara's independence movement, Brahim Ghali, is to appear before a Spanish court Tuesday over allegations of torture and genocide. His presence in Spain has angered Moroccan authorities, as a diplomatic crisis between the two countries continues.

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Brahim Ghali, who heads the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, is to testify by video conference from a hospital in Logrono in northern Spain, where he has been treated for Covid-19 since mid-April. The closed-door hearing is being held at Spain's National Court in Madrid.

Ghali is the subject of two investigations in Spain. One relates to allegations of torture at Sahrawi refugee camps in Tindouf, a town in western Algeria. The accusations were made in 2020 by Polisario dissident Fabel Breica, who also holds Spanish nationality. A Spanish court initially rejected the complaint but earlier this year it agreed to reopen the case.

The second investigation relates to allegations of genocide, murder, terrorism, torture and disappearances made in 2009 by the Sahrawi Association for the Defence of Human Rights (ASADEDH), which is based in Spain.

Santiago Pedraz, the Spanish judge handling the case, has refused to impose any precautionary measures – such as seizing the Polisario leader's passport as requested by the complainants –  arguing there are no "clear indications of his involvement" in the crimes of which he has been accused.

Morocco has already warned the Spanish government that allowing Ghali to "go home, bypass Spanish justice and ignore the victims" would further worsen ties between the two countries.

Growing diplomatic crisis

Relations between Rabat and Madrid took a turn for the worst in mid-April when Ghali arrived in Spain. Morocco claims he was allowed in using a forged passport.

Then last month, in what was widely seen as a punitive political gesture, Moroccan border guards looked the other way as some 8,000 migrants entered Spain’s tiny North African enclave of Ceuta.

Most were immediately returned to Morocco, but hundreds of unaccompanied minors, who cannot be deported under Spanish law, remain.

Ghali is also the president of the Sahrawi Democratic Arab Republic, a self-declared state since 1976 which claims authority over the disputed territory of Western Sahara – 80 percent of which is controlled by Morocco, the rest by the Polisario Front.

Rabat considers Ghali to be a war criminal, and Morocco's foreign ministry warned Monday that the crisis over his presence in Spain would "not be resolved with a single court hearing".

It once again demanded a "transparent investigation" over Ghali's arrival in Spain. The crisis, it said, was a "test of the reliability" of Morocco-Spain ties.

In a news conference on Monday, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said it was "unacceptable" that Morocco "attack the borders of Spain" by letting migrants into Ceuta due to differences in foreign policy.

Morocco's Foreign Ministry meanwhile blamed Spain for breaking "mutual trust and respect", drawing parallels between the issues of Western Sahara and Spain's Catalonia region, where there is an independence movement.

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