The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but …
Fatma just finished her 5th grade exam, and is well aware that she needs to pass to be able to start in 6th grade after the holidays.
“It wasn’t too hard”, the girl replies. We had four tests and I found them all quite easy; except maybe the one in Arabic.
Mohammed thanks her and grabs hold of the next child, hoping he or she will be slightly more talkative.
After a few minutes he is happy.
“I think I have what I need”; our Saharawian colleague says and heads for his car. It’s time to edit the two minute report he promised his boss in the radio station.
It was fun to see him work, even if we can’t use the story for anything, we agree, ignorant of the fact that the sympathetic looking man we just waved off has experiences that makes him more than interesting.
Six hours later we meet again by accident – at the local internet café – an oasis that attracts anyone who thirsts for news from the rest of the world.
“So I guess you have lived here most of your life”, we ask Mohamed, expecting him to repeat the story we have heard many times the last week.
“No”, he replies and smiles.
“So…eh – so where did you spend most of your life?”
“In my homeland. In the part of it that is occupied by Morocco.
Mohamed starts to tell us the story of how his mother, who was involved in the resistance against Morocco, had to flee to Mauritania in 1979, and how he, just 14 at the time, decides to take up his mother’s dangerous work. He quit school to be able to use all his time promoting the fight for a free Western Sahara.
“I never used a gun. Information was always my weapon”, he tells us, and sips his tea.
The Moroccan secret police, however found his nonviolent approach frightening enough to put him in jail three times.
“I was only 22 the first time they caught me. I was having tea with a friend when we heard a gentle knock on the door. My mate opened and seconds later five police officers rushed in and arrested us. My hands were tied and I was blindfolded as they drove me of to prison. Every day for three months I was beaten and tortured. I thought every morning would be my last. They did everything they could to make me give them the names of other people in the resistance, but I never spoke. Finally they released me, without further explanation. When I got out I realised they had kept me in I cell in the basement of the new football stadium”.
The shocking story is told in a gentle voice and the man in front of us shows no signs of anger.
A few years after his arrest the story repeated itself, and three new months of threats and torture followed.
“They did this three times, but I’m not sure I would have survived a fourth arrest”, Mohamed admits. In the autumn of 1999 a Moroccan publication called Essahifa (The journal) published a list of people they claimed was extremists linked to Polisario, the Saharawian freedom movement. Mohammed Kaihel understood his life was in danger when he found his own name and identity card number on the list.
“I managed to get over to Mauritania, where I met my mother for the first time in 21 years. From there I travelled to the camps where Polisario asked me to use my skills as a journalist. The last 13 years I have tried to tell my countrymen and everyone else who would like to listen how life is here. As you saw today I’m not always focusing on the conflict, but I have, and will always do my best to report the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”.