Morocco court frees Sahara activists after two years

'A positive step'

RABAT - A Casablanca court released from jail Thursday three activists for the independence of Western Sahara detained for more than two years and on trial for undermining Morocco's internal security.
Ali Salem Tamek, Ibrahim Dahhane and Ahmed Naciri were released just before they were to announce a hunger strike, their lawyer Mohamed Sadqo said.
Their trial has been postponed several times since they were arrested in October 2009 at Casablanca airport on their return from Algeria's western town of Tindouf, a base for the Western Sahara independence movement, the Polisario Front.
"We submitted the request for provisional liberty a long time ago. This decision of the court shows that there is not enough evidence to convict them," Sadqo said.
"It is a positive step which comes without doubt under pressure from the Moroccan authorities. We were going to hold a press conference next Monday to announce the decision of the activists to start a hunger strike."
International rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had long called for their release, saying the charges were politically motivated.
The three men were arrested with four other people, including a woman Dakcha Lachguer, who were not taken into custody pending trial.
Initially a military court in Rabat had accused the activists of spying but in September 2010 but it declared itself incompetent to handle the case, which was referred to the Casablanca court.
The court's questioning had focussed on the reasons for their trip to Tindouf, where they met Polisario representatives, and how it was financed.
Morocco annexed Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, in 1975.
The Polisario Front, supported largely by Algeria, demands that there be a referendum on self-rule; Morocco has proposed it be allowed autonomy under its sovereignty but not independence.