Algeria
27.11.23
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Algeria: UN Special Rapporteur’s visit, a renewed opportunity for reform and for the release of imprisoned activists

© Aboodi Vesakaran / Unsplash

The Algerian authorities should end their crackdown on fundamental rights and freedoms and release all human rights defenders and activists who unjustly languish in jail, said 12 NGOs today, ahead of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders’ visit to Algeria, from 26 November to 5 December. The visit comes amid a dire human rights situation, with over 230 activists, journalists and human rights defenders currently imprisoned solely for exercising their rights to freedom of speech, association and peaceful assembly.

The mandate of Special Rapporteur, Mary Lawlor, includes reporting on the situation of human rights defenders, broadly defined as ‘all persons, who individually or in association with others, act to promote or protect human rights peacefully.’

‘Those who dare to make a stand for human rights are coming under attack in Algeria on an alarming scale. They are facing an onslaught of harassment, intimidation, and unlawful detention. Some have been forced to flee the country and seek safety elsewhere, while others are still locked in jail’ said Wadih Al Asmar, President of EuroMed Rights.

It will be of utmost importance for the Special Rapporteur to pay particular attention to the risk of harassment and intimidation of civil society activists she may meet during her visit to Algeria. We draw the attention of the Special Rapporteur to a possible case of reprisals against Ahmed Manseri, the President of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (Ligue algérienne pour la défense des droits de l’Homme, LADDH) in Tiaret. He was arrested on 8 October 2023 and sentenced to one year in prison under spurious charges of disseminating documents that harm the national interest, incitement to unarmed assembly, and attack on the integrity of the national territory. On 17 September 2023, Manseri met with the UN special rapporteur on freedom of association and peaceful assembly, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, during his visit to Algeria from 16 to 26 September 2023. The signatory organizations call on the Algerian authorities to refrain from any acts of reprisal aimed at punishing or intimidating human rights defenders.

Over the past two years, Algerian authorities have shut down almost all spaces for dissent. They have dismantled most independent civil society groups that were created to defend human rights, and have shuttered the remaining media outlets that represent voices of resistance in the face of the prevailing authoritarianism in the country. Prominent associations such as the LADDH and the Youth Action Rally (Rassemblement Actions Jeunesse, RAJ), created in 1989 and 1992 respectively, have been dissolved by the administrative tribunal merely for activities that are inherent to their mandate, such as hosting conferences critical of the authorities, meeting with foreign activists, or defending minority rights. Authorities have often relied on vague and broadly worded laws to curtail the ability of human rights defenders to operate freely. For example, a tribunal in Algiers sentenced Nacer Meghnine, the president of the association SOS Bab el-Oued, to one year in prison for ‘undermining national interest’ after they found publications in the premises of the association denouncing repression, arbitrary arrests and torture.

‘Human rights defenders play a crucial role in challenging state practices, protecting the environment, calling for an end to torture, and defending minority rights and workers’ rights. And today they are bearing the brunt of the relentless assault on their right to speak out and stand against the abuse of power by the authorities. The authorities should end this misbegotten policy and allow civil society and activists to carry out their endeavors without undue restrictions,’ said Ziad Abdeltawab, Deputy Director at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.

Prominent human rights defenders have been forced to flee the country due to constant intimidation and harassment and in some cases prosecution and arbitrary detention for speaking up against repression. Such was the case of Zakaria Hannache, a human rights defender, who played a crucial role in monitoring the arrests and trials of activists during the Hirak mass protest movement calling for political change. On 2 March 2023, an Algiers court sentenced him to three years in prison in absentia on spurious charges of ‘spreading fake news,’ ‘receiving funds,’ and ‘undermining state security and the integrity of the national territory.’ In March 2022, Hannache was imprisoned for six weeks on unfounded charges, including ‘apology for terrorism’ and ‘spreading false information’, in relation to his activism. After his release, he was subjected to acts of intimidation and pressure, which pushed him to leave the country for Tunisia in August 2022 where he obtained refugee status with the UNHCR.

Another defender who was forced to flee is Amira Bouraoui, a gynecologist who has been politically active since 2011, including during the Hirak protest movement. In 2021, she was sentenced to a total of four years in prison in two cases for ‘insulting the president’ and ‘offending Islam.’ She was subjected to an arbitrary travel ban in 2021 and fled across the Tunisian border in February 2023.

Other defenders are still languishing in jail. For example, Mohad Gasmi, an environmental activist fighting the exploitation of shale gas in southern Algeria, has been incarcerated since 14 June 2020. In 2022, he was sentenced to three years in prison in two separate cases, one for posting critical messages on social media and the other for disclosing confidential information without the intention of treason or espionage, related to his activities abroad to protect the environment and against the exploitation of shale gas. In protest against his arbitrary detention, Gasmi began a hunger strike in July 2023, which resulted in a deterioration of his health. Currently, he remains unjustly imprisoned in Bou Saada prison. Kamira Nait Sid, co-president of the Amazigh World Congress, was arrested at her home on August 24, 2021. On 4 July 2023, she was sentenced to five years in jail, reduced to three on appeal, for charges of ‘receiving funds to undermine national unity and state security’, ‘the use of technology to spread false information’ and ‘membership in a terrorist organization.’

‘Languishing in jail for fighting for human rights should never be tolerated. It is high time for Algerian authorities to put an end to the security approach in the management of public affairs and to recognize the damage they are making to the country by erasing any independent voice and by crushing the lives of those who defend human rights,’ said Abdelouhab Fersaoui, former president of the dissolved association RAJ.

Over the past three years, Algerian authorities have adopted a raft of repressive new laws to stifle dissent and criminalize activism. The Penal Code was amended to include an article providing for up to 14 years in prison for participating in an organization or association that receives foreign funds without authorization. Presidential Ordinance No. 21-08 of 2021 changed the definition of terrorism to criminalize actions aimed at changing the system of governance by unconstitutional means, which effectively led to the outlawing of peaceful advocacy of regime change and calls for democratic reforms. The counterterrorism laws were used for example to prosecute human rights defenders Said Boudour, Jamila Loukil and Kaddour Chouicha, from the LADDH section in Oran.

Signatories :

  1. Actions Détenus
  2. Agir pour le changement et la démocratie en Algérie (ACDA)
  3. Association Tharwa n'Fadhma n'Soumer
  4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  5. Collectif des Familles de Disparu.e.s en Algérie
  6. Comité de Sauvegarde de la Ligue Algérienne de Défense des Droits de l'Homme (Safeguard Committee of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights)
  7. EuroMed Rights
  8. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  9. Mena Rights Group
  10. Riposte internationale
  11. SOS Disparus
  12. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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