The history of Mohamed Fadel Leili sadly is the history of a whole nation condemned to live under a brutal occupation of their homeland.
Mohamed Fadel Leili, is Saharawi lawyer: "I continue with my promise to defend Saharawi suffering torture " Nobody else can understand better his clients: the Saharawi political prisoners. This lawyer, who was kidnapped for 16 years develops its professional activity in an occupied state, Western Sahara.
Mohamed Fadel Leili graduated in law after suffering forced disappearance in secret prisons along with his entire family. After his release, he returned to his life at the same point where they stole it from him and completed his studies. Currently, he completed his PhD in International Law, specializing in border conflicts in Africa before the International Court of The Hague.
Today he had a hard day at work but, despite this, his shirt has no a single wrinkle and he keep a wise smile. He has just returned to his office, next to the avenue La Mecca of El Aaiun (Western Sahara capital city) after being in the headquarters of an association, where he gave a training session on human rights to Saharawi activists, explaining to his countrymen the legal contours and international law to defend their case: the independence of the Saharawi people.
But perhaps the most intense period of the day was the trial that he had in the morning. His client, Abdeslam Loumadi, was accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at a Moroccan police car. An offense in the criminal code of the occupying power, Morocco (Articles 580 and 585), that can range from five years in prison to the death penalty.
The Saharawi lawyer is satisfied: He obtained a sentence of 10 months for his client. Any other lawyer would be elated, euphoric. But Fadel Leili is not. He knows that his client was innocent, that he is a more a political prisoner. He known that disproportionate charges are a tool of the Moroccan security forces, in collusion with some judges to grieve the indigenous population. To force them to abandon activism.
That's why, in any democratic country, any legal system, the facts are judged and as a result there would be an acquittal. Nor the three officers who were presented by the prosecutor as witnesses, and that did not recognize the accused because the attacker wore a turban pulled over his face, nor the confession under torture that the police forced him to sign, served to make this judgment.
"Sometimes the background of a defendant are not even considered to be aggravating, because the courts already know that the charges are not true," said Mohamed Fadel Leili.
His office is located in a humble community in a poor neighborhood, is simple and austere. They note the iron bars in the doorway. When I ask him if he received threats, Fadel Leili says that in recent years, no. "However, my secretary lives in Matala district, a place where it is common for Moroccan security forces or settlers throwing break down the doors with any pretext." He spends many hours in the office alone and afraid.
Mohamed Bachir Leili form, along with Bachir Rguibi Lahbib Mohamed Boukhaled and Bazaid Lehmad, the legal team defending Saharawi activists in occupied Western Sahara. Their lifesaver in the courts. Few Saharawis can get a law degree because Morocco prevents the development of higher education in Western Sahara and those who want to study have to travel to Moroccan territory. It's what Fadel Leili did in January 1976, but with a gap: he pass 16 years 'disappeared' by Morocco's occupying forces. Mohamed Fadel Leili, before being a lawyer, was abducted and detained in various secret prisons for 16 years, his age when the Moroccan police had arrested him in Kenitra, 40 km from Rabat.
32 years old, and after suffering unspeakable torture, inhuman treatment and have seen the death of many of his friends and family in prison, Mohamed Fadel Leili made the decision to take over his life at the same point where he left it: retaking his studies an obtaining a degree in law.
This is his account of the sixteen years of enforced disappearance:
"My family lived in Tan Tan, but my brother and I had gone to Kenitra, to study in high school, because in Tan Tan we were receiving threats. My uncle lived in Kenitra and although we were in a boarding school, we could visit him in the weekends. However, in January 1976, my brother was arrested , in a wave of enforced disappearances against Saharawi. My father, my mother, my uncle and aunt disappeared on February 27, 1976. I was 16 and although I did not know of my family whereabouts , I had received information that ensured that they were in Agadir police station. "
Fadel Leili was taken to Derb Moulay Cherif prison (then secret) along with opposition figures and political prisoners. From that place, he remember the clothing he forced to wear, full of fleas and much bigger than his size, so
he had to walk holding the pants with his hands. In that place he lost its name, changed it to prisoner number 79 or 97, he does not remember well.
The guards were also inhumane, we did not know their names, we had to call everyone "El Hash", Chief, whenever it was necessary. Derb Moulay Cherif prison he tasted the flavor of torture, long sessions in which he was asked about the Polisario Front. They were seeking to obtain information on the organization governance structure, they ask him about El Ouli Mustafa Sayed and other leaders of the Liberation Movement, among them, another of his brothers, Ahmed Mohamed Lamin. "Of course I remembered them! They use to visit my house, but I was just a child without political ideas, he "recalls.
His next destination was the secret prison in Agdez, where would most Saharawi prisoners with higher education ended up or, like him, who were still in High School. They hold people at random, not by their relation to each other, but people who could build a resistance movement to the invasion. He recalls the day of the transfer to this jail as if it were yesterday. "Eight hundred kilometers in a van, under a scorching sun of July 1976. We were ten young prisoners, handcuffed and blindfolded. I saw a glimpse of humanity in one of the guards who violating the prohibition to give us to eat or drink when he gave us a drink of water. They received us with torture and searches. Then he had first surprise. "As I searched, I read in French, in the release chart, there was only the dead. It is then that I realize that we are there to die. "As stated by the doctor and forensic psychologist Carlos Beristain, "repressive procedures are very bureaucratic." There was always abundant documentation that testifies to the quantity and quality of the damage inflicted on the enemy.
It is in Agdez, he saw through a crack in his cell wall, his sister, his mother and his aunt pass, and later e saw his father. "I felt relief at not being alone, I need it my family."
10 people were held in cells of 5 or 6 square meters. Empty dwellings with irregular ground whit large stones . Blankets were the size of a large napkin to spend the cold nights of the desert. Food was served in rusty dishes containing hot water with a drop of olive oil floating in or a bit of carrot as big as a tip of a finger. In the afternoon, a porridge of cereals blackened by the the oxide. Anemia was setting up in the bodies of the prisoners. "They lost the ability to walk, had weakened muscles. Teeth were falling off and gums were raw, there were many dead from malnutrition. Then they chose to give us four or five dates a day. But we give it to the prisoners who were sick. ""One day they gave us rice, but an old prisoner saw that the rice also had small needles and gave the alarm . Joy became a nightmare. "
Death flew in Agdez. The guards allow them to perform the Muslim rite for the dead comrades. Wash them, wrap them with white sheets and pray for their souls. Each time the guards took a body away, the came back to give us sheets and they said "these ones are for you." Each time an inmate died from torture, they tortured another to divert the attention of the living. The urgency of their own suffering makes them forget those who pass away. "The guards braked the backbone of the corpses and throw acid in their faces so they couldn't be identified if someone were to find the pit where the were buried."
What was the plan of the Moroccan authorities? "The guards tell us that the order came from the governor of the zone, Ouarzazate, who gave orders for prisoners to die slowly, bodies were buried and to harshly punished any guards who dare to help the Saharawis."
"The guards were not trained (in reference to training in torture that the CIA promoted). The guards of Agdez give beatings without control, without technique, with sticks, with peaks, with large palm leaves, with glass bottles ... There were two or twelve guards at the same time. "
Despite all this, Mohamed Fadel Leili and his family survived just to be transfer to another prison: Kalaat M'Gouna. "The hardest night of my life" he describes rotund without hesitation. It is the month of October 1980. In each truck bed, were 25 people, all tied with the same coil of rope, so that every move or twitch tighten more nodes of others. "The military walked on top of us, beat us with the butt of the rifle on our heads and knees. When we arrived, they cut the rope and throw us for the truck face down to the ground. A companion died from internal bleeding. In Kalaat M'Gouna, the small improvements we have achieved in Agdez faded. "
And the family? They also were transferred to there, we were allow ten minutes a week to see each others. Normally, in the cells, 4 prisoners remained bounded, hand and foot. A new family member was in prison, his younger brother, held in 1983. "A guard one day said to my mother he has a gift for her, and takes her to see her child, in the way to torture room. He warns her with a smile that the boy has gone mad. They were together in a room full of soldiers. The child does not recognized his mother, but after a while she reminds him of childhood memories, he improves, smiles, turns to reality. When guards noticed, the took him away.
And so his family survived until their release.
In 1991 Morocco frees 300 Saharawi detainees, including Mohammed and his family. They lead us to Laayoune where we arrive at noon. During the night his father died, after 16 years in prison.
Here ends the brackets, but not the pain. Now 32 years old, he returns to school, sharing the classroom with 16 year old students. After going through economic hardship, he enrolled at the University of Marrakesh.
However, his younger brother, who had psychologically improved with medical treatment, disappears. The family undertakes the search to police stations, hospitals ... until Mohammed went to the morgue. "They toll me there was only one body, which is of a sailor named Omar. But I want to see it, is my brother. They claim that he drowned when he was swimming. He undressed, left his watch in his sneakers and then the sea returned it we body dressed. His shirt had paint on it, a sandal was broken, he had signs of strangulation ... ".
In 1996 he graduated and in 1997 he passed its examination of access to advocacy. In 2003 he obtained a masters degree in international law, and later his doctorate is in International law, specializing in border conflicts in Africa before the International Court of The Hague. "Today I continue with my promise to defend Saharawi suffering torture. I am part of a team of lawyers working on a voluntary basis. "
The role of Mohammed Fadel Leili, and his three companions, is regarded as crucial by members of the Saharawi human rights associations. In 2011 he received the prize of the Fundación Abogados de Atocha, a prize that the Consejo General de la Abogacía Española [Spanish Bar Association] they has pledged to boost through an agreement signed last May.
No one better than this team of four Saharawi lawyers, three of whom were victims of enforced disappearances and torture, can understand the suffering of those they defend. "We don't like the legal system, but we have an obligation to control all its facets. We suffer when we see injustice solely because the accused is a Saharawis. Moroccan judges commit a crime when they change the law and how it should be applied here. Our experience as a team of lawyers is important, we will use it when we draw our own system. When Sahara is free.