Washington / Morocco News Board -- The 2009 controversial documentary "Stolen" is making news in the United States where the Algerian government tried to stop the movie’s American broadcast premier by pressuring the Public broadcasting System (PBS) to cancel the showing. Writing for indiewire, the leading news site for independent-minded filmmakers, the co-directors claim that “There’s been significant pressure placed on PBS to not show "Stolen" from US-based lobbyists (US law firm Foley Hoag have been paid the best part of $1,000,000 annually by the Algerian government since 2007 to lobby in the US on issues related to Western Sahara) for the Algerian government, who back the Polisario."
“Stolen,” details cases of slavery in the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria. PBS decision to show the documentary came at a sensitive time for the Algerian government and the Polisario Separatist movement that run the Tindouf camps.
Algeria has been lobbying for the United Nations to investigate human rights abuses in the Moroccan Sahara and thus ill afford the political embarrassment and bad publicity of an indie movie highlighting the brutal conditions, including slavery, that endure thousands of civilians warehoused by the Polisario in the Algerian Sahara. Film Directors Violeta Ayala and Dan Fallshaw explain the condition under which they were granted the rare opportunity to visit the Tindouf Camps regarded as a closed military zone by the Algerian Army : “In 2006, we went to the Saharawi refugee camps in Algeria to make a film about the human side of the long-running conflict between Morocco and the Polisario over the Western Sahara. Little did we know what we’d uncover. “
In their article for indiewire, Ayala and Fallshow write how they uncovered the existence of Slavery in Tindouf: “We met Fetim, a beautiful black Saharawi woman on the last night of our first visit to the camps. She was the first person we spoke to who didn’t discuss politics and Leil, her 16-year-old daughter, spoke fluent Spanish. The camp population consists of two groups, the Beydan (white Arabs) and the descendents of sub-Saharan Africans. One afternoon Kamal Fadel, the Polisario representative to Australia, a Beydan, remarked that Leil’s two-year-old sister looked like a "monkey," which Leil heard. Angered, she spoke out for the first time and told us that things aren’t as they seem in the camps and black people don’t have the same rights as the so-called Beydan, who rule the camps. She told us the black people are still slaves, they don’t have the right to decide whom they marry, can have their children taken away, don’t carry their own last name and have no power over their destiny.
That was the moment for the film when everything changed. Other people started to tell us their personal experiences of slavery in the hope we could take their stories to the world. It felt like a mini revolution amongst the black people, but this new hope was short-lived: the Polisario, who run the camps, discovered that we’d learned about slavery and we had to hide our footage to protect the black people and to make the film. The Polisario authorities detained us."
The Australian Fallshaw and the Bolivian born Ayala dispute Algerian claims that they are Moroccan agents. The filmmakers claim” “Stolen" shows that slavery affects the black people in the Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara as well. After the Moroccan government learned this, 20 tapes were stolen and exchanged for blank tapes from our hotel room in Rabat. The Moroccan police ordered us to leave Western Sahara.”
The co-directors maintain, “Slavery exists in a refugee camp and is supported by the international community and the United Nations”. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) admitted, during interviews for “Stolen” in Geneva, knowing about slavery in the Tindouf refugee camps. As Algeria and Polisario pressure the UN mission to take on the role of human rights monitor in the Western Sahara, the UNCHR must divulge the truth about its awareness of slavery conditions in Tindouf.
Due to the Algerian pressures on PBS, the documentary showing was postponed from February 5th to February 26th. “Stolen” has won 14 worldwide awards including Best Documentary at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles and the Grand Prix at the Art of the Document in Poland.