Swede expelled for reporting Moroccan protest

A Swedish journalist who photographed an independence demonstration in Western Sahara said on Wednesday that he had been expelled by Moroccan police, as the authorities accused him of "provocation".

Lars Björk, a 40-year-old freelance journalist and photographer, told AFP:

“I was staying with friends in (the town of) El Ayoun on Monday night when I heard shouts in the adjacent street. I saw a dozen teenagers carrying little flags representing the Polisario Front. I took a few photographs and I left.”

According to Björk, who was working for Swedish news agency Tidningarnas

Telegrambyrå, a plain-clothes policeman then stopped him but let him go.

“As the demonstration was continuing and the atmosphere was becoming tense, I became fearful and ran off. Policemen in a car ordered me to follow them to the station,” he said.

Björk, who arrived in the Western Saharan town of Dakhla on February 6th from Mauritania for his third visit to the territory, said he was questioned by police for several hours that day and all the next. He refused to sign a police statement saying that he had incited the young people to protest.

That evening, the police gave him back his passport but kept his camera, he said, and then ordered him to take a bus to Agadir, in southern Morocco, where he arrived Wednesday morning.

A senior government official, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: “The Swede had provoked the Moroccan authorities by entering Morocco, via Dakhla before going to El Ayoun, without making himself known.”

“Morocco allows journalists to work here on condition that they are accredited, which is something the Swede did not consider useful to do,” he added.

El Ayoun police have issued a statement saying they have launched judicial proceedings against the Swedish journalist, accusing him of being “the instigator of an unlawful assembly in a public area in connivance with certain individuals”.

In Morocco, demonstrations must have official prior approval.

The Polisario Front is a movement working for the independence of Western Sahara, an old Spanish colony that was annexed by Morocco in 1975. It has the support of Algeria.