Twenty four Western Saharan activists were convicted by a Moroccan military court on Saturday, including nine life sentences for the activists' role in the killing of Moroccan soldiers at a protest camp in 2010, AP reported on Sunday.
Security forces were sent in to the Western Saharan protest camp near Laayoune close to the unofficial Moroccan border, after negotiations with protestors broke down in November 2010. The resulting clashes killed eleven Moroccan soldiers and two Sahrawis.
Mohammed Messoudi, a defense lawyer, said the trial should not have gone ahead in a military court: “the accused did not have all their rights because in a military trial we can’t appeal the verdicts,” he told AP.
The issue of Western Sahara has been a sensitive one for Morocco. The government does not recognize it as a separate state, instead referring to the area as the "Southern Provinces". Sahrawis have long fought for independence ever since their territory was annexed by Morocco and neighboring Mauritania in 1975.
According to Messoudi, the convicted activists were tortured while under detention. Global rights organization, Amnesty International, also argued that civilians should not be tried before a military court.
“[It] does not meet internationally recognized standards for a fair trial,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Mideast director, said in a statement. “Allegations of the torture of detainees must be investigated and any evidence obtained under torture must be dismissed by the court,” he added.