Moroccan State News Agency Fabricates the Death of a Youth in Melilla

Today I translated Medios oficiales marroquíes se inventan la muerte de un joven en Melilla, an international report from Spanish newspaper El País.

Background: Melilla is an autonomous Spanish city on the coast of North Africa with a population of 73,460. It has been part of the country since 1497. Morocco, which borders it by land, demands sovereignty, but Spain claims the city is essential to their country as a port. The UN does not consider it a colony. Ceuta is a Spanish city on the Strait of Gibraltar in a similar condition.

Morocco, which has a history longer than Spain’s, was a French and Spanish protectorate from 1912-1956. The Spanish controlled the mountainous northern region of the country, called The Rif.

The Sahrawi are an ethnic group from Western Sahara, estimated population 250,000-400,000. Spain transferred Western Sahara to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, but resistance from the Polisario, an independence movement backed by Algeria, have confused the country’s governance ever since. Mauritania withdrew its claim in 1979; most the territory is controlled by Morocco with the support of France, the rest by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic backed by Algeria. Neither government is not internationally recognized. The Sahrawi are also ethnic minorities in Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, and Spain.

Moroccan State News Agency Fabricates the Death of a Youth in Melilla
The official agency and the television stations falsely report that the Civil Guard killed a Muslim minor in this weekend’s incidents.
Authors: M. Ceberio Belaza and I. Cembrero, reporting from Madrid and El Aaiún, Morocco, October 30, 2010

Various Moroccan media have been airing a false story since Friday night: the death in Melilla of Younes, a 16-year old Muslim adolescent. The national news agency of Melilla’s neighboring country, whose director is appointed by the king, broadcast that the youth was struck at point blank by the rubber bullet of a Spanish Civil Guardsman during disturbances that “devastated the occupied city.” The story, which alluded to unspecified “various media” as its source, is even posted on the agency’s website. The Spanish language version replaces the rubber bullet with a real one. The television stations have echoed the report and broadcast it to Moroccan homes. But it is false.

The Spanish Minister of the Interior, the Government Delegation, and the president of the Autonomous City of Melilla, Juan José Imbroda, have denied that any youth, child, or adult has been killed by Spanish security forces. No families have reported the death of any members at the hands of the Civil Guard. There is neither testimony nor evidence of the death; the cadaver, according to the Moroccan reporters, was taken to an “undisclosed location.” The non-existent Younes is an invention that is very similar to a real tragedy, that of the adolescent Sahrawi Nayem Elgarhi, shot and killed by the Moroccan military last Sunday. According to Spanish diplomats and Sahrawi intellectuals, the story was fabricated to create parallelism between Melilla and the Sahara at a time when Morocco is facing its biggest Sahrawi protests since 1975, when Spain handed Western Sahara over to its neighbor.

On Tuesday, two days after the death of the adolescent Sahrawi, a series of dramatic altercations began in Melilla. Young Muslims set containers aflame and threw stones at the police in three poor neighborhoods. The disturbances supposedly stemmed from the ethnic Moroccan youths’ opposition to the recent employment plans, and they were covered extensively by Moroccan media. A Moroccan chain solicited a Melillan local station, Cablemel, for images from the neighborhoods of La Cañada de Hidum, Montecristina, and Cabrerizas. It was the first time they had asked for material. The interest of the African country’s press was the highest it had ever been.

Was the protest spontaneous? The spokesman for those complaining about the employment plans has been Yusef Kaddur, a representative of Muslim businessmen who had a major role in the conflicts on the border of Beni Enzar last spring, which were organized by Moroccan civil organizations counting on the support of their own country’s police. The same people responsible for that affair have affirmed that this week’s disturbances in Melilla were “organized.” So said Said Chramti, of the Gran Rif Association for Human Rights, one of the principal agitators on the border in August: “the click of an e-mail is enough to provoke something.” Whether he’s correct or not, it’s certain that the Cañada de Hidum neighborhood, where the altercations began, is very poor and easily agitated.

The story about the supposed dead youth in Melilla appeared on the official Moroccan news agency’s website on Friday night. The text was very hazy: it said that “various media” had reported the death of Younes and that the “forces of order” had taken the cadaver to an “undisclosed location.” They also insisted that the young ethnic Moroccans had protested not against the employment plans but also against Spanish “discrimination.”

The diffusion of the false story about the youth coincided, at any rate, with the real one about Sahrawi youth Nayem Elgarhi, provoking suspicions in El Aaiún, Western Sahara, that the two are linked. 15 kilometers east of El Aaiún, about 20,000 people have camped in Agdaym Izik for three weeks demanding homes and jobs while denouncing Morocco’s “pillaging” of the riches of the Sahara.

In addition to the Moroccan press’s extensive coverage of the altercations in Melilla, said to be similar to a siege, there have been other accusatory stories from the official agency against Spain. It assures that the police in Ceuta harassed a Moroccan radio journalist and that this was a violation of the “freedom of the press.” As it happens, this is the same complaint reporters have made in recent days against Morocco, which has impeded journalists from traveling to the Sahara and has forbidden them access to the site of the Sahrawi protests.

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