Polisario slams Moroccan prison sentences
The Algerian-backed Polisario Front movement seeking independence for disputed Western Sahara on Thursday denounced as "unjust" a Moroccan court's decision to sentence a group of Sahrawis to prison.
On Wednesday a court in Sale near Rabat sentenced 23 Sahrawis to prison terms ranging from two years to life over the killing of 11 members of the Moroccan security forces in Western Sahara.
The case had been closely followed by human rights campaigners.
Morocco and the Polisario Front have accused each other of provoking deadly clashes between police and Sahrawi protesters at a camp for displaced people in Gdeim Izik in November 2010.
"The Moroccan authorities of occupation were not able to prove the accusations against the detainees despite all the means of torture (they used against them) and the threats," the Polisario said in a statement.
It said Wednesday's verdict was "unjust" and aimed at "stifling the voice of the Sahrawi people who are demanding their legitimate rights".
In 2013 a military court sentenced the defendants to jail terms ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment.
International rights groups condemned that trial as "unfair" and in July the Court of Cassation ordered a civilian court to examine the case.
The court issued its verdict after 14 hours of deliberations, issuing sentences against 19 defendants ranging from 20 years to life.
Four others were given lighter sentences but were not detained as they have already served their time.
The defence has 10 days to appeal the ruling, along with a decision to dismiss claims for damages.
The killings took place on November 8, 2010 as Moroccan forces moved to dismantle the Gdeim Izik camp where thousands of Sahrawis were living.
Eleven security personnel and two Sahrawi civilians were killed in the clashes that followed, which spread to the nearby city of Laayoune where businesses and public buildings were looted and torched.
Morocco says Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony mostly controlled by Rabat, is an integral part of the kingdom.
The Polisario Front demands a referendum on self-determination for the territory.