Saturday, December 12, 2015

Morocco: Saida Menebhi Remembered

Saida Menebhi was born September 1952 in Marrakesh. She attended the University of Rabat to obtain her bachelors degree, where she studied English literature. There, she encountered the National Union of Students of Morocco (UNEM). She soon became an active militant of the student union, through its communist component the Baseist Democratic Way (VDB) which was noteworthy for supporting the independence of Western Sahara.

Alongside her academic training, Saida Menebhi also began to teach English at the college of Rabat. It was at this time that she joined the UMT (Moroccan Worker’s Union), and also joined the Moroccan Marxist-Leninist inspired Communist movement Ila al Amam ("Forward").. On January 16, 1976, as repression and arrests are increasing in Morocco, Saida Menebhi and three other activists were arrested in Rabat, for their political activities within Ila al Amam.

The young communist, then aged 24, is locked up in the detention center of Derb Moulay Cherif in Casablanca, known for the abuses that are practiced against prisoners. That same year, Saïda Menebhi , together with several other activists, launch a first hunger strike to demand the holding of a trial. Three months later and after extensive physical and psychological torture, Saida Menebhi is brought before a judge and then incarcerated in the Oukacha prison in Casablanca, pending judgment.

In January 1977, a year after her arrest, she appears alongside 138 other accused at trial in Casablanca. All will be found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison for threatening state security. During the trial, Saida Menebhi reaffirms her support for the Saharawi people and and their independence. At forefront of the accused, she also denounce the oppression suffered by Moroccan women across the country. Comments which earn her applause from across the room, but for which she will be sentenced to two additional years of imprisonment for insulting a magistrate, in addition to the five already imposed.

While 138 convicts are incarcerated at the Casablanca prison, four of them, including Menebhi Saida, will be placed in isolation at the Kenitra prison, north of Rabat. On 10 November 1977, a new hunger strike is launched. Followed simultaneously by all condemned in the Casablanca trial, in their respective prisons. The strikers demand the status of political prisoners, respect for human rights and decent conditions of detention and the end of isolation for their four comrades.

This new hunger strike (the third since her arrest) will be fatal for Saïda Menebhi. The young activist, already in critical condition, is transferred to Averroes hospital in Casablanca. But given her advanced decay, and lack of proper care, the Moroccan Saïda Menebhi, then aged 25 years, died, December 11, 1977, after 34 days of hunger strike

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