Algeria: Escalating repression threatens survival of independent civil society 

Algeria: Escalating repression threatens survival of independent civil society  - Media

On the third anniversary of the pro-democracy protest movement Hirak, the undersigned organisations express their alarm over the dangerous intensification of repressive tactics Algerian authorities are using to silence peaceful dissent and stifle civil society. The arrests of human rights defenders Zaki Hannache and Faleh Hammoudi, on 18 and 19 February respectively – the latter condemned to three years’ imprisonment on first instance on 20 February – are the latest examples of these repressive tactics.

The signatories urgently call on the Algerian government to stop the systematic criminalisation of peaceful activism, independent journalism, independent unions, and dissent, and for the release of all individuals imprisoned arbitrarily.           

While the number of prisoners of conscience has reached a new record (340 as of 9 February 2022[mfn]According to human rights defender Zaki Hannache[/mfn], including seven women[mfn] Kamira Nait Sid, Fatiha Daoudi, Wissam Safouan, Thalli Belabassi, Laila Hamama Maked, Fatima Boudouda and Moufida Kharchi[/mfn]), the proliferation of arbitrary prosecutions on terrorism charges carrying heavy penalties and unprecedented legal actions against civil and political organisations are of particular concern. In this context, at least 46 prisoners of conscience began a hunger strike on 28 January 2022[mfn]Some of them started on 25 January while others started on 31 January[/mfn] to protest their arbitrary detention. In what appears to be retaliation, five of them were physically assaulted[mfn]Mohamed Tadjadit, Soheib Debaghi, Tarek Debaghi, Malek Riahi and Nourredine Khimoud[/mfn], while at least 23 were arbitrarily transferred to other prisons.

Authorities have moved to crush any remaining civic space, threatening the very survival of all components of independent civil society and the multiparty system. In response to this new crackdown, on 11 February 2022, 21 Algerian, European and international organisations have reaffirmed their collective commitment to       the defence of human rights in Algeria through the creation of a dedicated working group.

While the possibility of legal proceedings for crimes against humanity and war crimes against General Khaled Nezzar appears to be materialising in Switzerland, our organisations underline the urgent need to fight against the lack of independence of Algeria’s judiciary. This lack of independence has contributed to a long-standing history of impunity sadly reminiscent of the 1990s, when nearly 8,000 individuals were forcibly disappeared by state agents.[mfn]8023 individuals disappeared declared by their families to the authorities within the framework of the Charter for peace and national reconciliation. See “Forced disappearances in Algeria: a crime against humanity, 1990-2000”, published by the Collective for the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria in 2016: https://www.algerie-disparus.org/app/uploads/2016/03/CFDA-RAPPORT-digital2.pdf[/mfn]

Signatories

  1. African Defenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network)
  2. Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH)
  3. ARTICLE 19
  4. Autonomous General Confederation of Workers in Algeria (CGATA)
  5. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  6. Collective Action-Detainees
  7. Collective of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria (CFDA) 
  8. Euromed Rights
  9. Free Algeria 
  10. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  11. International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF)
  12. Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL)
  13. Justitia Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights in Algeria
  14. MENA Rights Group
  15. National Autonomous Union of Public Administration Staff (SNAPAP) 
  16. Public Services International (PSI)
  17. Riposte Internationale
  18. Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (CCOO, Spain)
  19. L’Union syndicale – Solidaires
  20. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)
  21. Tharwa N’Fadhma N’Soumeur

More about recent human rights developments in Algeria     

  • Misuse of counterterrorism measures to suppress peaceful dissent

Between May and August 2021, Algerian authorities enforced a near-total closure of public space through mass arrests and unlawful use of force against protesters, human rights defenders, and journalists. Many have since been arrested and prosecuted under broadly-defined terrorism charges. At least 59 individuals are currently being arbitrarily prosecuted for terrorism-related charges under Article 87bis of the Penal Code defining terrorism, which was amended in June 2021 to further expand this definition.  At least 44 of them remain in pretrial detention indefinitely[mfn]With no prospect of trial at the time of writing[/mfn], including Kamira Nait Sid, an Amazigh rights defender, arrested on 25 August 2021; Slimane Bouhafs, refugee and Christian Amazigh activist, abducted and forcibly returned from Tunis on 25 August 2021; and human rights lawyer Abderraouf Arslane, arrested on 26 May 2021. In a communication dated 27 December 2021, five United Nations Special Procedures warned that Penal Code Article 87bis ‘[undermined] the rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, and also [imposed] disproportionate penalties for acts that should not be addressed by counter-terrorism legislation’.

  • Unprecedented legal action against civil and political organisations

Furthermore, unprecedented legal actions initiated against civil society organisations and political parties – notably members of the Pact for a Democratic Alternative (PAD)[mfn] The Pact for a Democratic Alternative is a pro-democracy political and civil society alliance that formed in June 2019, at the height of the Hirak movement[/mfn] – indicate the authorities’ determination to tighten their crackdown on any independent and organised activism and suppress the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

On 20 January 2022, the State Council temporarily suspended the activities of the Socialist Workers’ Party (PST) and closed its premises due to ‘illegal activity’. On the same day, the State Council dismissed a similar request from the Ministry of Interior to suspend the Union for Change and Progress (UCP); however, it is yet to rule on a request for the dissolution of the UCP. On 5 January, the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) received a warning from the Ministry of Interior to stop hosting meetings in its offices without authorisation and threatened the party with legal action. The warning referred to a meeting the RCD hosted on 24 December 2021 to launch a ‘popular front against the repression’. At least nine members of the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) have either been sentenced to prison, placed under judicial supervision  or in pretrial detention since September 2021. On 13 October 2021, the administrative court of Algiers also dissolved Rally Youth Actions (Rassemblement Actions Jeunesse – RAJ), a prominent youth and human rights organisation, on the basis that its activities allegedly contradicted its statutes. At least 11 members of RAJ have been prosecuted since 2019.

Civil and political activists have also been particularly targeted. Nine members of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) are facing prosecution in relation to their activism; three of them have been in pre-trial detention for several months. On 13 January, Nasreddine Hamitouche and Hichem Khiat, the Youth Gathering for Algeria (Rassemblement des Jeunes pour l’Algérie – RJPA), were placed under judicial control. On 9 January 2022, Fethi Ghares, national coordinator of the Democratic and Social Movement (MDS), was sentenced to two      years in      prison for criticising the authorities online and during a meeting. On 14 November 2021, Nacer Meghnine, President of youth organisation SOS Culture Bab el Oued, was sentenced to one year in prison for ‘distributing and possessing publications to undermine national unity’ and ‘inciting an unarmed gathering’.

  • Continued arbitrary arrests and sentencing based on broadly-worded charges

In parallel to these two notable developments, the arbitrary arrests and sentencing of peaceful activists, rights defenders and journalists have continued unabated, and authorities have used vague, broadly-worded charges such as ‘undermining national unity’, ‘offence to public bodies’ or ‘incitement to an unarmed gathering’. According to trusted sources     , at least 27 peaceful activists, demonstrators and journalists were sentenced to prison in January 2022. These include activist Mustapha Guira, sentenced to three years in prison on 23 January while he had been held on pretrial detention since 29 April 2021 in connection with another terrorism-related case; activist Bouziza Boumediene, sentenced to three years in prison on 30 January, and journalist and blogger Merzoug Touati, sentenced to one year in prison on 1 January. Among the 33 activists and journalists arrested in January 2022 is journalist Abdelkrim Zeghileche, arrested for terrorism-related charges on 24 January, as well as workers’ rights defender Dalila Touat, arrested again on 31 January 2022. Both had already been subjected to judicial harassment.