Spanish court summons Polisario chief over torture charges
MADRID – A Spanish court has ordered a hearing for Ibrahim Ghali, the leader of the separatist Polisario Front who travelled last month to Spain with a fake passport to be treated for COVID-19.
Spanish and Moroccan media confirmed that the investigating judge in Madrid officially ordered the hearing. Ghali entered Spanish territory last month with an Algerian passport and a fake name.
The investigating judge set Wednesday, May 5, as a date for the hearing on charges brought against Ghali by rights activist Fadhel Barika, who accuses the Polisario leader of arbitrary kidnapping, detention and torture.
The Moroccan website Lodisk said the court’s order was issued before the arrival of Ghali in Spain. During the years 2008, 2013 and 2006, the Spanish judiciary received several complaints against the Polisario from the victims’ associations.
The blogger and human rights activist Barika said that he and two other bloggers, Mahmoud Zeidan and Moulay Abba Bouzid, “were subjected to physical and psychological abuse after they criticised serious human rights violations by the Polisario.” Barika added “the leaders of the separatist group have used the suffering of the displaced people to serve their personal interests.”
He claimed that his body still bears the marks of the torture that he was subjected to during the last five months of 2019.
Ghali, 73, is wanted by a court specialised in crimes of torture, rape, forced detention and kidnapping in Spain.
The Sahrawi Association for Human Rights had asked the Spanish judiciary to question Ghali over “crimes against humanity, including rape, torture and war crimes, as long as he is on Spanish soil at San Pedro de Logrono Hospital.”
The non-governmental body said in a statement that “the Association’s lawyer called on the public prosecutor to take the relevant measures to ensure the issuance of a statement and prevent Ghali’s escape from Spanish territory.”
The Sahrawi Association said that “Ghali was summoned to testify by the judge of Court No. 5 of the National Court in November 2016,” but he did not comply.
The Spanish judiciary has been pursuing Ghali on numerous charges since 2008, when a case was filed against him by victims and members of the Sahrawi Association for Human Rights. The victims have taken legal action against 25 Polisario members and three Algerian army officers on charges of assassination, violence, forced detention, terrorism, torture and forced disappearance.
In late April, Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Ministry had summoned the Spanish ambassador to convey the government’s “regret” over Spain’s decision to receive Ghali for medical treatment.
Spanish officials had earlier revealed that Ghali was hospitalised in Spain for treatment of COVID-19.
Ghali heads the Polisario Front, which has long fought for the control of Morocco’s Western Sahara, periodically engaging the Moroccan armed forces.
The Moroccan foreign ministry said Spain’s stance is “inconsistent with the spirit of partnership and good neighbourliness.” Morocco was seeking an explanation of Spain’s position, the ministry said.
The diplomatic tension between Rabat and Madrid comes as Spain seeks Morocco’s cooperation in stemming the flow of migrants across the sea to Spanish territory. The Spanish government is also seeking to deepen economic ties with Africa.
An official from Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in April that Ghali had been taken in “for strictly humanitarian reasons.”
Western Sahara stretches along Africa’s Atlantic coast south of the Moroccan resort city of Agadir and borders Algeria and Mauritania. It has a population of 600,000. It was colonised by Spain in the 19th century. In 1975, it was annexed by Morocco.
An international legal ruling said the region’s population have had historic ties of allegiance to Morocco’s monarchy.