On 24 August, Kaddour Chouicha, a prominent human rights defender and vice president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), and president of the League in Oran, was detained at Oran airport with his wife. After a two-hour interrogation about the reason for his travel, his destination, and his links with United Nations (UN) human rights mechanisms, Chouicha was prevented from boarding his flight at the airport without being informed in advance by the authorities that his name was on a travel ban list. The travel ban procedure coincides with Chouicha's readiness to travel, to prepare with others for meetings with the United Nations Special Rapporteurs, and to highlight the continued restrictions on the freedom of the work of trade unions and associations. He had been traveling with his wife, who is participating in meetings at the Human Rights Council today 31 August, in the lead up to the official Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session at the Human Rights Council, which is scheduled to be held next November. Blocking his travel was a reprisal for Chouicha’s active engagement with the UN Universal Periodic Review on Algeria scheduled for November 2022. The travel ban is also likely in retaliation for his participation in a joint submission that shed light on the shrinking of civic space and harsh repression against human rights defenders and activists from the Hirak movement by the Algerian authorities. This increasing repression includes physical aggression, arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment and torture during detention, and judicial harassment against peaceful demonstrators, members of the human rights movement, trade unionists, and journalists.
The undersigned organizations fear that this incident, which coincided with the visit of the French President to Algeria, is further evidence of the continued condoning by European leaders of the escalating human rights violations in Algeria in exchange for securing Europe's energy needs. The organizations consider that this selectivity and inconsistency in support of international human rights standards fuels instability and promotes the growth of violent extremist groups. In addition, searching for compromises with authoritarian regimes would impede the processes of democratisation on the shores of the southern Mediterranean and increase the number of immigrants from its youth desperate for change.
It is worth mentioning that the Algerian authorities have a long record of harassment against Kaddour Chouicha; on 12 March 2021, he and his son were violently beaten by police forces in Oran (one of the police officers tried to strangle him). On 29 April 2021, human rights defenders (HRDs) Chouicha, Jamila Loukil, and Said Boudour, and 12 other peaceful activists, were prosecuted on terrorism-related charges. The Public Prosecutor of Oran charged the human rights defenders with: ‘conspiracy against state security to incite citizens to take up arms against state authority or to undermine the integrity of the national territory; ‘propaganda likely to harm the national interest, of foreign origin or inspiration, and enrollment in a terrorist or subversive organization active abroad or in Algeria‘ (based on articles 77, 78, 87bis, 87bis 3, 87bis 6, 87bis 12 and 96 of the Penal Code). These charges and in particular the last charge is concerning, as authorities are linking the peaceful and legitimate activism of human rights defenders to alleged terrorism. If convicted of these charges, the human rights defenders face a prison sentence of up to twenty years.
In this context, the undersigned organizations demand:
- UN Special procedures and OHCHR should immediately and publicly raise concerns to Algerian authorities about the continuous targeting and reprisals against human rights defender Chouicha.
- International bodies and independent international and regional human rights organizations should work to ensure that Algerian civil society is able to operate freely and free from reprisals and repression, including the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights.
- Algerian authorities should immediately drop all travel ban measures and charges against human rights defender Kaddour Chouicha; who is being targeted for his legitimate and peaceful work defending human rights and his participation in peaceful protests.
- Algerian authorities must guarantee that in all circumstances, human rights defenders in Algeria can carry out their legitimate human rights activities without restrictions or fear of reprisal. Peaceful protesters should not be penalized, especially by using unfounded terrorism charges to imprison them.
- Algerian authorities should review Penal Code provisions that carry the risk of unduly criminalizing human rights work, including articles 87bis and 96, in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) ratified by Algeria.
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
- Euro-Mediterranean Network for Human Rights
- Algerian League for Human Rights
- FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Counter-terrorism should not be an excuse to violate human rights