Satellite image depicting a desert and a sea.

Morocco’s Abuses in Western Sahara

Human Rights Investigations Lab 2020

Student Investigations Lab Project

The Investigations Lab worked with the Washington Post to analyze video footage of a brutal police beating of a media activist Walid Elbata by Moroccan authorities in Western Sahara. Students confirmed the video’s authenticity by comparing landmarks in the video to Google Earth satellite imagery. They also identified clues to indicate the beating was conducted by plainclothes police officers.

Walid Elbata was beaten and then arrested by Moroccan police on June 7, 2019. Moroccan authorities justified the incident by saying the car Elbatal had collided with police. Video, images and eyewitness testimony from that day refute that narrative. This incident illustrates the extent to which the Moroccan government exerts control over its territories and Sahrawis in Western Sahara

The Washington Post‘s fact checking team won a prize in the Global Fact Check Awards from the Poynter Institute as a result of their reporting.

A diptych shows two vehicles, with red circles showing their similarities.
A screenshot from the Washington Post’s visual investigation.


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The Washington Post logo
Watching Western Sahara logo.

Washington Post Visual Investigation


Team Acknowledgements

Investigation Leads: Ceren Fitoz, Farah Dewan, Yudi Sabina Nong, and Vyoma Raman

Student Contributors: Michael Elsanadi,  John Ortilla, Juan Rivera, Dominique Lewis, Nick Shafer, Jade Wynn, Nika Hajikhodaverdikhan, and Brenna Smith


Image by Daniel Born via Unsplash

March 12, 2020

Video contradicts Morocco’s justification of a brutal beating in Western Sahara

Investigations Lab in the News — The Washington Post: Video contradicts Morocco’s justification of a brutal beating in Western Sahara, reporting with Investigations Lab research.