Tuesday, 27 October 2009

VIDEO: Salah Amaidan invites you to "Running the Sahara 2010"

Media coverage: Community Newswire Oct 16, 2009

By Paul Collins, Community Newswire

SPORT Olympics, 16 Oct 2009 - 10:46

An African athlete who trains with British marathon runner Paula Radcliffe has arrived in the UK to highlight the plight of his country and plea with the International Olympic Committee to let him compete in London 2012.

Salah Amaidane from Western Sahara has never been able to compete in the Olympics because his country is not recognised by the IOC.

Western Sahara has been unlawfully ruled by Morocco since it was annexed by force in 1975. Despite an International Court of Justice ruling, and more than 100 UN resolutions, Morocco has continued to block the right to self-determination.

Amaidane said: "I have two dreams. The first is to compete in the Olympic Games. If not in London then in Rio in 2016. But an even greater dream than winning an Olympic Gold medal is to see my country of Western Sahara free."

Amaidane, 26, lives in France and regularly trains in the Pyrenees with Radcliffe. He has been living in exile since 2003 when he unfurled a Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic flag, the symbol of Saharawi defiance, while competing for Morocco at an event in France.

The athlete, in the UK as a guest of human rights group and arts charity Sandblast, will take part in the Wimbledon Audi 10k run, in South London, on October 18.

He will also urge an all party parliamentary group in Westminster to increase political pressure on Morocco to abide by international law, and hopes to meet Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London 2012 organising committee.

Amaidane said: "When I was 10 years old I used to sneak up behind Moroccan policemen and snatch their caps off their heads. They would chase me but I was always too fast for them. I guess I was lucky that they never drew their pistols. People said I was faster than a bullet but fortunately it was never put to the test."

Sandblast aims to raise awareness of the situation in Western Sahara by encouraging Saharawis to tell their own story through educational events and the arts. The charity finances cultural and artistic projects in refugee camps, and promotes collaboration with artists worldwide.

It is currently looking for participants from the UK to take part in the Running the Sahara 2010 event to help raise £50,000 to fund its work with the people in Western Sahara. Entrants can choose to run 5k, 10k, a half marathon, or full marathon course around refugee camps in February.

For more information visit www.sandblast-arts.org.

Source: Community Newswire

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Media coverage: Camden News Journal Oct 15, 2009

Camden Sports - by STEVE BARNETT
Published: 15 October 2009
FREEDOM runner Salah Amaidan was training with Highgate Harriers coach Keith Wilson this week in Parliament Hill Fields.

The long distance gold medalist has come to Camden to raise awareness about the plight of his native Saharawi people, who are living under occupation in Morocco.
Salah will run 35 laps around Parliament Square later this month to mark a 35-year milestone since an international court recognised his people’s right to self-determination. The verdict has so far been ignored by the Moroccan state, but the 26-year-old wants his country to be recognised so that he can one day run at the Olympics. He said: “Having a team of top Saharawi athletes is a dream of many of our youth.”
Salah met Danielle Smith, who runs the Sandblast charity in West Hampstead, and sports massage therapist George Ellis, who is taking part and promoting the Saraha charity runs in February and raising funds for the Saharawi refugees. Salah will talk about his political struggle and his rise as a world class runner in Inspirals Cafe in Camden High Street on Monday at 7pm.

Media coverage: The Bath Chronicle Oct 21, 2009

Time for tea as African athlete pops round for charity chat 
Wednesday, October 21, 2009, 08:50
An elite African athlete who has fought for his country's independence has given a talk to a group of Bath students during an event to highlight the work of Amnesty International.

Sixth-formers at the Royal High School held an 'Amnestea' fundraising tea party, at which staff and parents listened to a presentation on the human rights charity's campaigns across the world.

The special guest was 5,000-metre African champion Salah Hmatou Amaidane, who has campaigned for his homeland Western Sahara to be granted independence from Morocco.

The 26-year-old is the honorary figurehead for next year's Sahara Marathon, an event to raise money to help build an athletics team to represent the Saharawi people.

School International Baccalaureate co-ordinator Angharad Holloway thanked Amaidane for taking the time to talk about his experiences. She said: "Peace and conflict resolution is one of the core themes in the current IB programme.

"We were privileged to have Amaidane with us and everyone was very moved by the plight of his people and his passionate devotion to their freedom. It has really brought home to the students how fundamental human rights are to a decent and dignified existence."

Amaidane, born in Western Sahara, has represented Morocco at athletics competitions but has been arrested and imprisoned for taking part in peaceful protests for the self-determination of his people.

He was granted political asylum in France after showing a Saharawi flag during a race. The Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco since 1976 and around 165,000 Saharawis live in refugee camps in the Algerian desert.

Amnesty International estimates that more than 500 people have "disappeared" and is trying to draw the world's attention to the abuses of the Moroccan authorities.

Media coverage: Your Local Guardian Oct 20, 2009

Monday, 19 October 2009

Amaidan wins Wimbledon Audi 10k

On occasion of his visit to the UK in order to support Sandblast in  their campaigning efforts for the Saharamarathon, Salah Amaidan took part in the Wimbledon Audi 10k on Sunday, October 18th...and won!

Salah has been training for this race since he arrived in London on Oct 8th; that is, he tried to use every second for his training that he was not busy giving interviews, engaging in debates with students, activists, politicians and other members of the public. In the last two weeks, he toured through England from London to Brighton and Bath, he spoke to the Muslim community at the City Circle, to students at the Royal High School of Bath and Sussex University, ran laps at Parliament Square for each year the 1975 ICJ verdict on Sahrawi self-determination has been ignored and, finally yesterday, he competed in the 10km race in Wimbledon. 

The Wimbledon Guardian will be reporting about his victory tomorrow. The source, however, is sitting right here and this is what Salah said about the race:

"I came to the UK to support the charity Sandblast and their efforts to campaign for the annual Saharamarathon in the camps. By this, British people get the chance to see and experience for themselves how my people have to live. When I run and win races, this is a way for me of expressing the aspirations of my people for their independence.

[To the Wimbledon Audi 10k] I enjoyed running the race in Wimbledon but it was hard for me as it is a lot colder and hillier than I am used to. I was very happy to win but I would have loved to win an Audi 4x4 to support my youth athletic projects in the refugee camps."

Wimbledon Audi 10k results: Wimbledon Audi 10k (pdf)

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Statement: Sandblast condemns arrest of 7 saharawi human rights activists

London, Oct. 13, 2009 – The apprehension of seven Saharawi human rights advocates in Casablanca last Thursday, October 8, 2009, is the latest systematic violation of human rights by Moroccans against Saharawis after the detention of six Saharawi students in August this year.

Moroccan police arrested a group of human rights defenders from Western Sahara on October 8th 2009 at the Casablanca Airport at the point of their return from the Saharawi refugee camps in SW Algeria. While Moroccan police officers have confirmed the arrest, no further details on the group’s whereabouts and their situation were released.

The group’s visit to the camps had previously been condemned in the Moroccan press and they accused the advocates of treason. The widely published articles and press releases stated that their visit “hurt the feelings of the whole Moroccan people” and demanded an “exemplary punishment” for all members of this group.

Mohamed Abdelaziz, the President of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) expressed his concern to the President of the Security Council, Mr Le Loung Minh for the safety of the Saharawi detainees.

Sandblast condemns the abduction and fears for the safety of
  • Ali Salem Tamek, first Vice-President of the Saharawi Collective of Human Rights Defenders (CODESA);
  • Brahim Dahane, President of the Sahrawi Association of Victims of Grave Violations of Human Rights (ASVDH);
  • Ahmad Anasiri, General Secretary of the Saharawi Committee for the Defence of Human Rights in Smara;
  • Yahdih Ettarrouzi, member of AMDH Laayounne Chapter;
  • Saleh Lebayhi, President of the Forum for the Protection of Saharawi Children;
  • Dagja Lachgar member of the executive office of ASVDH, and
  • Rachid Sghayar, member of the Committee Action Against Torture

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Press release: Saharawi Athlete's Dream of London 2012

LONDON, Oct. 14, 2009. The Sahrawi runner Salah Amaidane from Western Sahara who regularly trains with Paula Radcliffe has arrived in London to highlight the plight of his country and his dream of running in the 2012 Olympics. Salah Hmatou Amaidane who has won gold medals in Africa and Europe is not eligible to compete in the Olympics due to the fact that his country, occupied unlawfully by Morocco for over three decades, is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee. During his UK visit, Amaidane will take part in the Wimbledon Audi 10k run on October 18th.

Western Sahara was annexed by force in 1975, eight years before 26 year-old Amaidane was born. Despite a ruling by the International Court of Justice and over 100 UN resolutions, Morocco has steadfastly blocked the native Saharawi people's right to self-determination and as a result Amaidan is unable to compete for his country.

Amaidane, who lives in exile in France, has track times which would qualify him to compete in numerous Olympic track events including the 1500m (3min32s) and the 3000m Steeplechase (8min25s). But unless his nation gains independence or is recognised by the IOC, he will be forced to watch the Games in 2012 from the grandstand.

Amaidane's athletic talents were first spotted when he was just a boy, rebelling against the oppressive Moroccan regime. “When I was ten years old I used to sneak up behind Moroccan policemen and snatch their caps off their heads. They would chase me but I was always too fast for them” he recalls fondly. “I guess I was lucky that they never drew their pistols. People said I was faster than a bullet but fortunately it was never put to the test.” He was invited to join a running club and at the age of 13 he was selected for the Moroccan youth athletics school and moved a thousand miles away to Rabat where he stayed until he was 19. Three times youth champion of Morocco and runner up in the African Athletics Championships he was selected to compete for Morocco in France in 2003. Whilst approaching the finishing line in first position in a 10km race there he unfurled a SADR flag, the symbol of Saharawi defiance. As a result he was forced into exile. He has not seen his family nor run for any nation since.

Whilst in London, Amaidan will be taking part in a number of events and will even be meeting with MPs in Parliament. He will take in a 'Chariots of Fire' race around Parliament Square and race in a half marathon in Wimbledon and is also hoping for a meeting with Lord Sebastian Coe, Chair of the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Sir Craig Reedie newly appointed executive board member.

He will call on the IOC to recognise the SADR and impress MPs the need to increase international political pressure on Morocco to abide by international law and allow the Saharawi people self-determination.

“I have two dreams” says Amaidan. “the first is to compete in the Olympic Games. If not in London then in Rio in 2016. But an even greater dream than winning an Olympic Gold medal is to see my country of Western Sahara free”.

Amaidan is in London as a guest of the UK human rights and arts charity, Sandblast, to help promote the “Running the Sahara 2010” (aka the Saharamarathon) taking place in the Saharawi refugee camps in the Algerian desert next February. 

  • Oct 16: To commemorate the 34th anniversary of the International Court of Justice Ruling he will take part in a “Chariots of Fire” race around Parliament Square competing against a number of athletes, MPs and celebrities. Parliament Square
  • Oct 18: Amaidane takes part in the Wimbledon 10k, London
  • Oct 19: Amaidane speaks about his story as a freedom runner from Western Sahara at InSpirals Lounge, Camden, 7pm
  • Oct 20: Testimony at Parliament meeting with All Party Parliamentary Group on Western Sahara

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Freedom Runner: Salah Hmtou Amaidane

26-year old Amaidane began his athletic career in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara at age 12, when he was recruited to Morocco’s junior running team. Early in his career he displayed an exceptional ability to run and win over a wide range of distances from 1500m to 10km. By 1999 he was the triple champion for Morocco for cross-country racing and the second champion of Africa (5000m). Despite his remarkable record, it did not protect Amaidane when he joined peaceful protests against the Moroccan occupation. His family home was repeatedly raided. He was blindfolded, taken to prison, interrogated, threatened and humiliated.

Amaidane got political asylum in 2003 after he led an 8-km race in France and waved the Saharawi flag for the last remaining 200m. Alongside other exiled Saharawis, Amaidane has joined an UN-sponsored programme to reunite Saharawi families separated by the occupation and the 2,500km long land-mined Berm dividing the Western Sahara.

In a letter addressed to the British people, Amaidane expresses his support for the Saharamarathon as a means to draw attention to the situation of his people (for the full letter, click here). Having personally suffered the consequences of speaking up for his people, Salah campaigns for not only the resolution of the Western Sahara issue, but also for the international recognition of Sahrawi sportsmenship:
"I believe sports is an important way to represent your country and its values. Having a team of top Saharawi althletes is the dream of many of our youth. Unfortunately, humanitarian aid is rarely adapted to meet the requirements of high level sports  and the youth in the camps lack all kinds of facilities and training equipment to achieve this dream.

Fulfilling  the athletic aspirations of young Saharawis living in occupied Western Sahara is not any easier either. The only way a Saharawi can find a place in top competing teams is if he or she expresses their allegiance to the King and the Moroccan occupier. But doing this comes at a high price. It means enduring all kinds of humiliations and disrespectful treatment. Otherwise, Saharawis have no chance to participate in any competition of any meaningful level". (Excerpt from Amaidane's letter)
Saharawi athletes are not permitted to take part in international competitions and, thus, the Olympic Games as his country, the Western Sahara, is not recognised by the International Olympic Committee (as well as by Egypt, Madagascar, Iran, etc.). Amaidane calls on the IOC to recognise the SADR and fulfil his dream of competing in the Olympic Games. In an interview with the journalist Stefan Simanowitz, Salah said: "I have two dreams. The first is to compete in the Olympic Games. If not in London, then in Rio in 2016. But an even greater dream than winning an Olympic Gold medal is to see my country of Western Sahara free".

This Friday (Oct 16th), Salah will run 35 34 laps around the Parliament square for each year that the ICJ verdict on the Saharawi right to self-determination has been ignored by Morocco and the international community. Want to join him? Get in touch.

On Sunday (Oct 18th), Salah will run the Wimbledon Audi 10k race and hopes to be able to meet iwth Lord Sebastian Coe, Chair of the Organising Committee of the Olympic Games.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

International Education Fund: the Sahrawi project

The Imperial College Business School dedicated this year's International Education Fund (IEF) to the Sahrawi refugees and raises funds for the camp school for blind children. The good people of IEF host a fundraising launch evening on November 11th with "numerous MPs, professors and other dignitaries will be attending" (according to the IEF facebook group), such as MP Jeremy Corbyn. The Sahrawi singer Aziza Brahim, who we featured on this blog earlier in September, is thought to give a performance to mix up the long line of keynote speakers ranging from the Imperial College Rector Anderson to IC professors.

The IE Fund initiators ask you "to come along with an open heart and an open cheque book so we can collectively raise money".

Visit here for their homepage and here for their facebook group. You can buy tickets for their launch evening on Justgiving.com.

Friday, 9 October 2009

It's not easy being green? Try being a human rights activist

Activist of all kinds of convictions have made the headline this year. Most prominently in the UK, we remember the G20 protests early 2009 that saw British police officers literally lashing out to protesters causing one death and countless injuries. Only limited and highly censored news of the arrest and abuse of human rights activists at the Beijing Olympics reached us in the summer of 2008. 

No news at all reaches us (unless we look carefully enough), about human rights activists that campaign in support of the Saharawi refugees. While the Moroccan UN ambassador tours the world and proposes... well... "visions", those aiming to effect change or "merely" want to observe, investigate, and understand what is going on "behind closed doors" are hindered to do just that. Hindered with violence, hindered with arrest. ASVDH reports:
Morocco arrests 6 Western Saharan human rights activists at Casablanca airport

ASVDH has received a telephone call from its President, Mr. Brahim Dahanne, confirming that he was on board a plane and had just landed, along with six Sahrawi human rights defenders, at the Casblanca Airport. They had returned from a visit to the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria, lasting from 23 September and 8 October.

The other activists on the flight were:
Ali Salem Tamek (vice president of the CODESA)
Degja Lechgar (ex-disappeared, member of ASVDH and CODAPSO)
Hammadi Naciri (vice president of the CSPDH (Smara))
Rachid Saghair (member of the Committe Against Torture, Dakhla)
Saleh Lebaihi (president of Forum to Protect Children)
Yahdih Ettarouzi (human rights activist)

At 13h37 (GMT) we called him again and he told us that there were a few police cars near the plane and they will be arrested. Since that time we have lost contact with him. (Source: ASVDH)

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Afrik.com: “End the illegal occupation of Western Sahara” Labour Party Conference urged

Campaigners ensured that the crisis in Western Sahara was high on the political agenda at the annual Labour Party Conference this week. They joined representatives from Polisario, Western Sahara’s government in exile, to attend the conference and meet with government ministers, MP’s, MEP’s and diplomats from around the world.
As well as meetings in the main conference arena, campaigners also held their own fringe meeting and organised a picket outside the conference centre. They were joined by stars from the West End musical, Avenue Q, in handing out leaflets calling for an end to Morocco’s 34 year illegal occupation which forced half the Saharawi population to flee to refugee camps whilst the other half suffer human rights abuses in their native land.

Over the three days, Y Lamine Baali, UK Polisario representative met with Baroness Kinnock, Minister of State for Europe, Michael Cashman MEP, Lord George Foulkes and several MP’s including Andy Love and Jeremy Corbyn, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Western Sahara.

At the International Reception on Monday, Mr Baali raised the question of the UN’s role in resolving the situation in Western Sahara and how activities can better be coordinated between between the UN, the EU, the G20 and the African Union.

At a meeting on international affairs attended by David Miliband (Foreign Secretary), Bob Ainsworth, (Defence Secretary) and Douglas Alexander (International Development Secretary) two questions on Western Sahara were raised. The first, from the head of the Angolan delegation, expressed concern about the human rights situation in the occupied territories. The second, from Mr Baali raised the issue of the advanced status that the EU plans to grant Morocco and its link to EU Fisheries Agreement. The question of illegal fishing by EU vessels in Western Saharan waters was also raised by the Chair of the Free Western Sahara Network, Stefan Simanowitz, at a meeting with Huw Irranca-Davies, Minister for Marine and Fisheries.

Y Lamine Baali said today:

“The last three days have provided us with an important opportunity to make sure that the issue of Western Sahara is not forgotten. We have been here to remind the British government and the world that our country has been occupied unlawfully for more than three decades. The International Court of Justice’s ruling has been ignored. Over 100 UN Resolutions have been disregarded. And in the meantime the Saharawi people’s human rights are abused with impunity. Over 165,000 them have lived as refugees in remote camps in the Algerian desert for more than a generation. Although international action is long overdue, we believe that the force of history is on our side and our right to self-determination will soon be realised.”

Jeremy Corbyn will make an address about Western Sahara to the UN Committee on Decolonization in New York on 6th October.

To find out more about Western Sahara and the campaign visit www.freesahara.ning.com

Contact press office on 07799 650791
(Source: Afrik.com)

Monday, 5 October 2009

VIDEO: Spottet in the Western Sahara blogosphere

The Belgian Western Sahara support group Westelijkesahara.be just posted this great teaser for the documentary "Western Sahara. Africa's last colony".