Algeria: Harassment of Union Leaders and Bans on Demonstrations Continue in Algeria Despite the Repeal of the State of Emergency

05/03/2012
Urgent Appeal
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One year after the repeal of the state of emergency in Algeria, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT); their Algerian member organizations the Algerian League for Human Rights Defence (LADDH) and the Coalition of Families of the Disappeared (CFDA); as well as SOS-Disparus, the National Independent Union of Public Servants (SNAPAP) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, are deeply concerned about the fact that human rights defenders, in particular union activists, remain the targets of harassment by the authorities.

On 26 February 2012, 40 members of the National Workers’ Committee on Pre-employment and the Social Net of the National Independent Union of Public Servants (Syndicat national autonome des personnels de l’administration publique, SNAPAP) were arrested during a sit-in demonstration staged in front of the Maison de la Presse in Algiers, where participants were calling for recognition of the rights of unemployed and casual workers. After being detained in the morning, the union leaders were released in the late afternoon without being charged. Among them were Malika Fallil, chair of the National Workers’ Committee on Pre-employment and the Social Net, and Tahar Belabès, spokesperson for the National Coordination for the Defence of the Rights of the Unemployed (Coordination nationale de défense des droits des chômeurs, CNDDC).

On the same day, 40 contract teachers, along with the president and the general secretary of the Contract Teachers’ National Council (a SNAPAP affiliate), were also arrested at a sit-in held in front of the Presidency of the Republic in Algiers to call for the granting of tenure. All were released later that day without being charged.

This kind of arrests has become recurrent against some union activists who are the targets of constant harassment by police and by the judicial authorities. Both Ms Fallil and Mr Belabès had already been arrested on 22 February at a demonstration that took place in front of the Palais des Expositions in Algiers, where they tried to question the Minister of labour and the spokesman of the President of the Republic Belkhadem Abdelaziz, about the rights of unemployed and casual workers. Both had also been hounded for their participation in demonstrations in favour of economic and social rights in 2011 as well as other union activists.

Another example of harassment is that of Hadj Aïssa Abbas and Mohamed Seddik Bouamer, representatives of the CNDDC branch in Laghouat, 400 km south of Algiers. On 18 January 2012, the two men were sentenced in trial court to 18 months in jail for ‘demonstrating in a public place’ (art. 297-298 of the Penal Code) after having taken part in a peaceful demonstration in favour of the rights of unemployed workers in August 2011 in Laghouat. The Laghouat court’s decision was made without the accused being present, since they had not been summoned. They are opposing the in absentia judgment. This severe sentence sends a clear and disturbing message to union leaders and human rights defenders calling for recognition of the right to work and the right to decent living conditions.

Our organizations strongly condemn this harassment of Algerian human rights defenders. They point out that, according to article 1 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, ‘everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels’.

Our organizations urge the Algerian government to bring all acts of harassment to an end and to comply in every respect with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and with the international and regional instruments for the protection of human rights that have been ratified by Algeria.

EMHRN has already noted in its latest report – entitled Lifting the State of Emergency: A Game of Smoke and Mirrors. The Status of Freedom of Association, Assembly and Demonstration in Algeria[1] – that the repeal of the state of emergency was only a game of smoke and mirrors. This measure only served to conceal the fact that barriers to the enjoyment of public and individual freedoms, as well as human rights violations, have become even more relentless than before and that most of the restrictive measures in place during the state of emergency have simply been incorporated into regular laws.

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