I dream of my father, but when I wake up I look at the wall and cry… 

  

Fatma Zawi 8 years old
The children of the Saharawi political prisoners are the forgotten victims, who suffer their parents plight on the skin. Of the more than 50 Saharawi political prisoners, many have children. Some of these children were born after the arrest of their parents.   
Morocco sends the Saharawi political prisoners to Moroccan prisons, outside the occupied territories of Western Sahara, kidnapping these men to a foreign country, hundreds and sometimes thousands of kilometres away from their families.   

The Moroccan authorities violate not only the rights of the political prisoners but also the rights of their minor children.   

There are several cases of minor children who watched the arrest and detention of their parents, invading the houses, one extreme violence scenario that causes trauma for life, as documented by various organizations and academic institutions.   

These children are deprived of visiting regularly their parents, some of them never visited and when visits are permitted, they are made in an atmosphere of intimidation.  

 Catarina, daughter of Jose Casanova, a member of the Portuguese Communist Party and political prisoner during the dictatorship of Salazar, tells us that the effects of being the daughter of a political prisoner never go away, even more than four decades past. She recalls the emotions she felt as a child: panic, anxiety, and despair. Terror when the PIDE (police of the fascist regime) came into the house to conduct searches and the immense longing of her father.   

She remembers the visits in prison, although at the time she did not reach the scope of the injustice of her father’s and her aunt’s arrest. The visits she associates to the cold due to the tiles, the guards and forced physical separation.  

 Catarina was forced to live in exile in Brussels, a country she doesn’t miss and still does not like to speak French.  

 After decades Fatma Zawi lives the same drama. Sahrawi born in Fuerteventura, daughter of Houcein Zawi and Maluma Saadi, has two sisters, Aya 12 years old, born in El Aaiun and Aziza 5 years born in Bilbao.  

Houcein Zawi is one of the Saharawi political prisoners of the Gdaim Izik Group. He participated in 2010 in the protest camp known as Gdaim Izik, that gathered tens of thousands of Saharawis from the occupied territories in the desert near the capital El Aaiun, there they were peacefully claiming their social, economic and political rights for one month, Noam Chomsky refers to this camp as the beginning of the Arab spring. 

After the brutal dismantling of the camp by the Moroccan military, hundreds of persons were arrested and tortured for participating in this peaceful protest, 21 of these prisoners were judged to 20 years to life imprisonment, Houcein Zawi is one of them.  

Fatma is a girl like so many others, she likes pink clothes, cartoons, loves swings and playing in the park, she is affectionate with her little cousins. She likes to dance, but doesn’t do it in public. 

“When my father is out of prison I will dance” she tells me with the serious air of one who has to explain the obvious to an adult.   

“I do not see my father for two years, he is very far away…. I was 6 years old the last time I saw him in prison. I went there with the wife of my grandfather, we can not go all together. ”   

Houcein Zawi has a 25-year sentence, accused of crimes he did not commit, and brutally tortured numerous times, suffering from asthma and other health problems, the prison where he is, is more than 1100km away.   

For his wife and her three daughters to visit they have to spend at least 600Euros on the trip and stay. A very high value for any Sahrawi family. “I do not understand why my father is in prison, I saw a video of him talking with a turban on his head in Gdaim Izik camp, my father is good … in this camp people were protesting because they have problems with the Moroccans. The Moroccans should go to their country and leave the Sahara, stop hurting us. ”   

Her mother, Maluma, interrupts and says: “My eldest daughter, Aya, one of the times we visited her father, saw him surrounded by police handcuffed with his hands behind his back, Aya wanted to hug her father but could not, she was 6 years old at the time and Fatma little over 2. She began to cry a lot and told the guard that those who are arrested are bad people and criminals, the police should arrest the bad people not the good, and they (the guards) were bad cops because they took her father who did not hurt anyone and is not a criminal. 

They opened the handcuffs to calm the girl, but they were hanging from the wrist of Zawi and Fatma asked why the father had bracelets. ”   

The smallest Aziza also has visited her father in prison, she never lived with her father, she was born after his arrest.   

Fatma continues: “The prison is in Sale, Rabat, far away, it’s a large building with a large door and then a lot of doors, it has a lot of police. A man calls the prisoners, then we seat at a table with chairs, there are many prisoners and families and many guards and they hear everything. I brought my father a sweet, a Torrón (sweet honey, egg white and almond) and hugged him very strong, I did not want to leave, I was very happy, but then I cried a lot, I wanted to stay longer with him. This has been a long time ago, I was still very young.  

My sisters and I talk about our father when we are together and sometimes at night. Once I dreamed that I had been told that he had been released, I woke up and thought it was true, I woke my older sister to tell her that our father was free, but it was just a dream. We want him to be released, and the other Sahrawi prisoners, who are with him, they should not to be imprisoned, they are good. ”   

Fatma does not go to the Moroccan public school in El Aaiun in the occupied territory where she lives, is not safe says her mother. 

 “You know, I dream of my father, and when I wake up I look at the wall and cry …. When I talk to my father on the phone I first ask how he is, then I tell him what we are doing at home, at school, with my family .. ”  

 Fatma wants to know why they do not release her father and when he will be released.  

 “In El Aaiun there are many manifestations” Labadil Labadi Antakrir El Massir “- there is no other solution than self-determination protesters shout, I’ve seen it many times and then comes the police to beat them and put people in vans. They hit the Saharawis a lot for being Saharawis, they do not beat the Moroccans. They enter the houses and destroy everything, beating people, I’ve seen it … they enter by force, they do not have keys, they are not visits, they enter by force !!! They are very bad, but I’m not afraid of them! Once I told one of them that he was evil and other things .. If I had one wish, I would demand the freedom of my father, ” says Fatma.   

Maluma, listens to her daughter with sadness in the eyes of a mother who can not erase her daughter’s pain. “They are very sad when they see other children who have fathers. For me the arrest of my husband is very difficult, not only because he is far away, but because the responsibility of raising my daughters is mine alone. It costs me a lot not being able to see them happy. The oldest is the one that was most affected, she was angry, it affected her studies, she was unwilling to do anything … always sad … ”   

The violence children in the occupied territories are subjected to on a daily basis, is comparable to a war scenario. The blue and white vans, the civil cars, thousands of military, police and plainclothes agents who cruise the streets, turned this territory into an open-air prison. Intimidation is constant and no one is spared.  

 Fatma will have painful memories as does Catarina, the two are bonded because they are victims of a terror regime. The international community did not protect Catarina, and does not protect Fatma, despite the passing of decades and all the mechanisms for a referendum in Western Sahara being in place.  

 Each of us has the duty to demand the release of these innocent men and to demand that Fatma and all Saharawi children can live in their country freely, without the constant terror of occupation 

ISABEL LOURENÇO 

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