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Human Rights Watch denounces the arrest and trial of a Sahrawi woman

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Sahrawi woman Nezha Khalidi, arrested December in Laayoune. / Ph. DR

New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed the Moroccan authorities, Thursday in a statement, for «using a law designed to keep people from falsely claiming professional credentials to bring criminal charges against people trying to expose abuses».

HRW referred to the case of Sahrawi woman Nezha Khalidi who was arrested in December, 2018, for livestreaming on Facebook a street scene in Laayoune and denouncing «repression». Khalidi, who is affiliated with pro-Polisario group called Equipe Media in Laayoune, is expected to go on trial on May 20 for «not meeting the requirements to call herself a journalist».

«People who speak out peacefully should never have to fear prison for ‘pretending’ to be journalists», HRW Middle East and North Africa director Eric Goldstein said.

«The authorities shouldn’t be using a law designed to keep an unqualified person from claiming to be a doctor, for example, to punish people whose commentary displeases them».

HRW Middle East and North Africa director Eric Goldstein

The NGO made mention of Article 381 from Morocco’s penal code, indicating that it forbids «claiming or using a title associated with a profession that is regulated by law … without meeting the necessary conditions to use it». Violating this Article leads to sentences, ranging from three months to two years.

By relying on Article 381, Morocco would be violating «its obligations under international human rights law to respect the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas», Human Rights Watch concluded.

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