Aminatou Haidar : biography
Aminatou Ali Ahmed Haidar ( born 24 July 1966), sometimes known as Aminetou, Aminatu or Aminetu, is a Sahrawi human rights activist and an advocate of the independence of Western Sahara. She is often called the "Sahrawi Gandhi" or "Sahrawi Pasionaria" for her nonviolent protests. She is the president of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA). She was imprisoned from 1987 to 1991 and from 2005 to 2006 on charges related to her independence advocacy. In 2009, she attracted international attention when she staged a hunger strike in Lanzarote Airport after being denied re-entry into Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. Haidar has won several international human rights awards for her work, including the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and the 2009 Civil Courage Prize. In 2012 she was nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize.
2009 Lanzarote Airport hunger strike
On 13 November 2009, Haidar was detained by Moroccan authorities at the airport in El-Aaiún when she attempted to return from a trip to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain, to collect a prize. Under citizenship, she had refused to state her nationality as "Moroccan". The authorities denied her re-entry, confiscated her passport, and sent her back to the Canary Islands without it. Two Spanish journalists who had accompanied her were also detained for several hours. A Moroccan official called her refusal to call herself Moroccan as "an act of treason" and stated that Haidar would not be allowed to return to El-Aaiún until she apologized. The Spanish newspaper El País later published documents demonstrating that the Moroccan government made three different flight reservations for Haidar prior to her return, indicating that they had planned to expel her in advance.
On arriving at Lanzarote Airport, Haidar began a hunger strike. She accused Spanish officials of holding her against her will by not allowing her to return to Western Sahara without a passport. On 17 November, the airport management firm Aena filed charges against her for disturbing the public order. She was required to attend court in Arrecife and fined 180 euros.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called on 9 December for Morocco to allow Haidar to return. Human Rights Watch stated that Morocco "must reverse its expulsion of Sahrawi rights activist Aminatou Haidar and allow her to enter her country of nationality". while Amnesty International condemned her expulsion as part of a pattern of "growing intolerance" by the Moroccan government.
A number of activists and celebrities also expressed support for Haidar during her strike. Portuguese Nobel Prize-winning writer José Saramago, who owned a home in Lanzarote, sent her a letter in November stating that "If I were in Lanzarote, I would be with you". On 1 December, he met her at the airport, stating, "It's time for the international community to pressure Morocco to comply with the accords about the Sahara".
Argentinian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel asked for a "humanitarian and political exit" for Haidar, and called on the Spanish and Moroccan governments to undertake dialogue to see "in what ways could the European Union, Council of Europe or even the United Nations intervene to avoid a tragic outcome and try to save her life, but not at any cost." British filmmakers Ken Loach and Paul Laverty compared Haidar to U.S. civil rights activist Rosa Parks, stating, "What tragedy would be for the non-violent resistance, and for the possibility of a pacific solution, that we let her die." Statements of support were also issued by Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano, Spanish actor Javier Bardem, US Senator Jim Inhofe, Guatemalan Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú, British musician Brian Eno, and Spanish novelist Alberto Vázquez-Figueroa.
On 29 November, a group of Spanish singers and musicians gave a free concert in support of Haidar in Rivas-Vaciamadrid, on the outskirts of Madrid. Performers included Bebe, Kiko Veneno, Macaco, Amaral, Pedro Guerra, Mariem Hassan, Conchita, Miguel Ríos, and Ismael Serrano. On 10 December, dozens of artists and activists sent an open letter to Juan Carlos I of Spain, asking him to intercede for Haidar with Morocco. Signatories included three Nobel laureates - Günter Grass, Dario Fo, and Saramago - as well as Pedro Almodóvar, Mario Vargas Llosa, Penélope Cruz, Antonio Gala, Almudena Grandes, Carlos Fuentes, and Ignacio Ramonet among others from India, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Colombia, Brazil and Angola.
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