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Sahrawi websites censored throughout the country

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has condemned the recent censorship of many websites supporting the Polisario Front's struggle for Sahrawi independence.

Calling on the Moroccan authorities to stop blocking access to sites dealing with Western Sahara, the organisation said: "It should not be possible to take a decision to filter a website without a fair trial taking place first. Banning an online publication simply on the basis of an administrative decision is a serious violation of free expression."

Reporters Without Borders has verified that the http://www.arso.org, http://www.cahiersdusahara.com, http://www.wsahara.net and http://www.spsrasd.info websites have all been rendered inaccessible in Morocco since 21 November 2005. These sites all criticise Morocco's control of Western Sahara and encourage protests, but they do not call for violence.

A "connection failure" error message is displayed when someone tries to access one of these sites. The decision to block may have been taken by the communication ministry, which is responsible for censorship, or the interior ministry, which monitors the Sahrawi problem. Local sources said the filtering can nonetheless be easily sidestepped by using an online proxy such as http://www.anonymizer.com.

ARSO - the Free and Legitimate Referendum in Western Sahara Support Association - carried photos on its website in September that showed Sahrawi prisoners being held in extremely harsh conditions in the prison in El Ayoum, the territory's main city. The local state prosecutor reacted by ordering an investigation with the aim of "exposing all those implicated in this vile act that jeopardises the reputation of the prison where the inmates are held."

Western Sahara was annexed by Morocco in 1975. The situation in the territory is extremely tense, with frequent clashes between the population and the security forces. The Polisario Front is calling for its independence.

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