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Western Sahara

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

Moroccan law and practice apply. The Moroccan constitution and Moroccan law generally provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, although they criminalize and restrict some freedom of expression in the press and social media–specifically, criticism of Islam, of the institution of the monarchy, and of the government’s positions regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Such criticism may result in prosecution under the law, with punishments ranging from fines to jail time, despite the freedom of expression the law stipulates. The law applies only to journalists accredited by the Ministry of Communication for speech or publications in the line of work; private speech by accredited journalists remains punishable under the law. Authorities were sensitive to any reporting not in line with the state’s official position on the status of Western Sahara, and they continued to expel, harass, or detain persons who wrote critically on the subject. According to the April UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara, the OHCHR continued to be concerned by reports alleging excessive surveillance of human rights defenders and journalists in Western Sahara. The October UN secretary-general’s report on Western Sahara also added that the OHCHR continued to receive reports of harassment and arbitrary arrests of journalists, bloggers, and human rights defenders covering human rights violations. Amnesty International stated Sahrawi human rights activists remained subject to intimidation, questioning, arrest, and intense surveillance that occasionally amounted to harassment.

Freedom of Expression: Moroccan law criminalizes criticism of Islam, of the legitimacy of the monarchy, of state institutions, of officials such as those in the military, and of the Moroccan government’s position regarding territorial integrity and Western Sahara. Sahrawi media outlets and bloggers with opposing views to those of the government often practiced self-censorship on these topics.

Amnesty International and other NGOs reported that on April 11, Moroccan Security Forces arrested Saharawi activist Ali al-Saadouni after he posted a video of himself displaying POLISARIO flags during a demonstration the previous day in Laayoune. On April 29, a Laayoune Court of First Instance sentenced Saadouni to seven months in prison and a fine of 5,000 MAD ($500) for assault and drug charges. AdalaUK NGO reported the public prosecutor did not present evidence to substantiate the charges. On June 13, the Laayoune Court of Appeals reduced the prison sentence to five months.

For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Moroccan government practices concerning press and media freedom, violence and harassment, libel or slander, and national security topics were the same as those in internationally recognized Morocco.

On February 16, Ana Cortes, a journalist working for a Spanish news outlet, was expelled from Western Sahara to Agadir after police interrupted her meeting with members of the al-Kassam Association of Laayoune, according to Reporters without Borders (RSF).

Nazha Khalidi, a citizen journalist affiliated with Equipe Media, a Sahrawi online news agency not registered with the government of Morocco, was arrested in December 2018 as she attempted to livestream on Facebook security forces dispersing a demonstration in Laayoune. Police confiscated the cellphone Khalidi used to record the footage. Human Rights Watch denounced the charges filed against Khalidi for falsifying professional credentials by engaging in journalistic activities without state-issued accreditation as a journalist. On May 19, Moroccan authorities denied entry into the territory for five Spanish lawyers and two Norwegian human rights activists attempting to observe the Court of First Instance hearing initially scheduled for May 20. On July 8, the Laayoune Court of First Instance convicted Khalidi of falsifying professional credentials as a journalist and fined her 4,000 MAD ($400).

Censorship or Content Restrictions: Moroccan law and practice apply. Self-censorship and government restrictions remained serious hurdles to the development of a free, independent, and investigative press. Publications and broadcast media require government accreditation, and the government may deny and revoke accreditation as well as suspend or confiscate publications. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.

The government of Morocco enforced strict procedures governing journalists’ meetings with NGO representatives and political activists. Foreign journalists needed, but did not always receive, approval from the Ministry of Communication before meeting with political activists.

Local and international media, including satellite television and POLISARIO-controlled television and radio from the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, were available in the territory.

For more information on these subheadings, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.

Moroccan law and practice apply. According to a June RSF report, Sahrawi citizen journalists’ and bloggers’ social media accounts were frequently hacked. In the same report, Equipe Media cited constant cyber-attacks against its Facebook page. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.

Moroccan law applies. As in internationally recognized Morocco, the Moroccan government limited freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

Moroccan law provides for the right of peaceful assembly. The government generally permitted authorized and unauthorized peaceful demonstrations to occur. According to Moroccan law, groups of more than three persons require authorization from the Ministry of Interior to protest publicly. As in internationally recognized Morocco, some NGOs complained that the government used administrative delays and other methods to suppress or discourage unwanted peaceful assembly. Security forces intervened on occasion to disband both authorized and unauthorized protests when officials deemed the demonstration a threat to public security. On April 26, Amnesty International reported continued arbitrary restrictions on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, particularly of individuals supporting self-determination for Western Sahara.

Several proindependence organizations and some human rights NGOs stated that in recent years the submission of applications for permits to hold demonstrations declined because police rarely granted them. In most cases the organizers proceeded with planned demonstrations in the absence of authorization, and there was no discernable difference in security forces’ reaction to authorized or unauthorized protests. Violent confrontations between security forces and protesters were less common than in previous years, according to several local NGOs, although violent dispersals occurred on occasion. Security force practices were similar to those in internationally recognized Morocco; however, in Western Sahara there was often a higher ratio of members of security forces to protesters.

The CNDH’s Laayoune and Dakhla regional commissions monitored 40 demonstrations from January to July. Security forces dispersed several demonstrations by force, with clashes resulting in injuries on both sides.

Amnesty International published video footage and witness testimonies indicating that, on July 19, security forces used excessive force to disperse demonstrators after some participants at a street gathering in Laayoune–celebrating an Algerian soccer victory–began waving the Saharan flag. During the clash two Moroccan Auxiliary Forces vehicles ran over Sabah Othman Ahmida, an English teacher, who died at a local hospital. On July 29, the Court of First Instance initiated legal proceedings against 11 Sahrawis who were arrested and charged with sabotage, obstruction of a public road, and insulting public authorities. The CNDH visited the detainees at the local prison in Laayoune. At the third and final hearing on September 4, the court sentenced five defendants to two and one-half years in prison, five other defendants to five years in prison, and another defendant to a one-year suspended sentence. Each of the 11 individuals was also fined 30,000 MAD ($3,000) in damages. The specific charges for which each individual was convicted were unknown. The defendants appealed the sentences, and the date of the Appeals Court trial was unknown at year’s end.

Moroccan law and practice apply. Generally, the government denied official recognition to NGOs that it considered advocates against Islam’s status as the state religion, the legitimacy of the monarchy, or Morocco’s territorial integrity. Amnesty International reported that Moroccan authorities routinely rejected the registration applications of Sahrawi human rights groups. Organizations engaged in other activities did not report problems in registering with the government. The CNDH’s Laayoune branch reported one complaint from an organization that was denied registration during the year.

The government tolerated activities of several unregistered organizations.

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at

Moroccan law and practice apply. Moroccan law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. NGOs and activists alleged that Moroccan authorities sometimes restricted access to Western Sahara for foreign visitors, including journalists and human rights defenders (see section 2.a. and section 5). The government of Morocco claimed it only restricted access when such visits challenged Morocco’s territorial integrity or were perceived to be a threat to internal security and stability. According to the government, authorities granted access to 91,575 foreigners traveling to Western Sahara through Laayoune and Dakhla airports from January to October.

The government continued to make travel documents available to Sahrawis. There were some reported cases of authorities preventing Sahrawis from traveling. The government of Morocco encouraged the return of Sahrawi refugees from abroad if they acknowledged the government’s authority over Western Sahara. Those refugees wishing to return must obtain the appropriate travel or identity documents at a Moroccan consulate abroad, often in Mauritania.

On January 15, Moroccan authorities denied entry to Spanish lawyer Louise Magrane upon her arrival to the airport in Laayoune. Magrane intended to observe Dehani’s Court of Appeals hearing initially scheduled for January 16 (see section 1.d.).

On May 19, Moroccan authorities denied five Spanish lawyers and two Norwegian human rights activists entry into Laayoune for attempting to observe a court of first instance hearing for Nezha Khalidi (see section 2.a.).

Not applicable.

Moroccan law and practice apply. For more information, see the Department of State’s 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Morocco.

Not applicable.

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