Algerian human rights lawyer Abderraouf Arslane was arrested on 27 May, 2021 in Tebessa while visiting his client Aziz Bekakria, who had been sentenced to jail for posts on Facebook and for belonging to the Rachad movement, which Algerian authorities classify as a terrorist organisation. Arslane remains behind bars.
The lawyer is well known for his involvement in the popular Hirak movement and for his unconditional defence of prisoners of conscience in this region of eastern Algeria. He was the only lawyer who agreed to represent Aziz Bekakria before the court in Tebessa because of the controversial nature of the case.
Two days before his arrest, Arslane spoke to one of his colleagues, sharing his concerns about the tactics the security services of Tebessa[mfn]Algeria Watch, Exactions and torture during the Algerian Hirak: the case of lawyer Raouf Arslan and his client Aziz Bekakria: https://algeria-watch.org/?p=77870 [/mfn] were using against him and his client. He was informed that his name was frequently mentioned during interrogations, during which police and gendarmerie officers presented him as the leader of a network of activists within the Hirak movement in Tebessa. Arslane knew his arrest was imminent.[mfn]Algeria Watch, « Exactions and torture during the Algerian Hirak: the case of lawyer Raouf Arslan and his client Aziz Bekakria », Link : https://algeria-watch.org/?p=77870 [/mfn]
On 7 June, 2021, it was confirmed that Abderaouf Arslane would be provisionally detained on what his defence team described as ‘fallacious accusations’. The public prosecutor for the court of Tebessa accused Arslane of defending members of a terrorist organisation that was sharing subversive speeches via social media and on foreign TV stations with the aim of disturbing and overturning the social order.[mfn]Algérie 360, « Detention of raouf arslene: lawyers on national strike », Link : https://www.algerie360.com/detention-de-raouf-arslane-les-avocats-en-greve-nationale/ [/mfn] On the same day, the National Union of Lawyers (UNOA), called for a national strike to protest against the move.
Abderraouf Arslane’s colleague Mokrane Ait Larbi stated that Arslane had been placed in custody for ‘his opinions and without legal reason‘. He added that ‘the authorities have never dared to incarcerate a lawyer because of his political statements or his opinions’[mfn]Algérie 360, « Abderraouf Arslane case: the call of Mokrane Ait Larbi to the lawyers », link : https://www.algerie360.com/affaire-abderraouf-arslane-lappel-de-mokrane-ait-larbi-aux-avocats/ [/mfn].
ARTICLE 19 affirms that lawyers must not be imprisoned or prosecuted because of their statements and publicly-stated opinions; in fact, providing opinions and expert advice is a vital part of a lawyer’s work and it is illegal to detain them on these grounds. In cases where lawyers transgress their legal prerogatives, they can be referred to a disciplinary board that has been set up in accordance with Algerian Law No. 13-07 of 29 October, 2013 regarding the organisation of the bar and its professionals.
ARTICLE 19 urges Algerian authorities to respect the principles of the legal profession and to guarantee its independence and security. It underlines the important role that lawyers play in the establishment of justice and in protecting the interests of people before the courts.
ARTICLE 19 appeals to the independence of the judiciary, and, on 26 May, 2022, called for the immediate release of human rights lawyer Abderraouf Arslane, as well as every lawyer who has been arrested for carrying out their daily professional tasks.
The #NotACrime campaign
On 19 May, 38 Algerian, regional and international organisations launched #NotACrime, an online campaign calling for the Algerian authorities to uphold people’s fundamental freedoms.
In May 2021, Algerian authorities shut down the ‘Hirak’ pro-democracy protests in most of the country. Since then, the number of unfounded terrorism prosecutions has soared, problematic amendments to the Penal Code have been adopted, legal actions have been initiated against civil society organisations and opposition political parties, and the crackdown on human rights defenders and the media has intensified, while authorities continue to obstruct independent unions’ registration and activity.
The campaign runs from 19 May to 28 May using the organisations’ respective social media accounts.