Algeria: Escalating repression threatens the survival of independent civil society

22/02/2022
Press release
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RYAD KRAMDI / AFP

On the third anniversary of Algeria’s pro-democracy protest movement, Hirak, the undersigned organisations express their strong concern at the dangerous intensification of Algerian authorities’ repressive tactics to silence peaceful dissent and stifle civil society. The arrests of human rights defenders Zaki Hannache and Faleh Hammoudi respectively on 18 and 19 February – the latter condemned to three years imprisonment on 20 February in the first instance – 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 [1], including seven women [2]), the proliferation of arbitrary prosecutions on terrorism charges carrying heavy penalties and the unprecedented legal actions against civil and political organisations are of particular concern. In this context, at least 46 prisoners of conscience started a hunger strike on 28 January 2022 [3] to protest their arbitrary detention. In what appears to be retaliatory action, five of them were physically assaulted [4] 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, 12 Algerian, European, and international organisations reaffirmed their collective commitment to the defence of human rights in Algeria through the creation of a dedicated working group on 11 February 2022.

While the possibility of legal proceedings for crimes against humanity and war crimes against General Khaled Nezzar seems 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 [5].

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 worded 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, [6] including women’s and Amazigh rights defender Kamira Nait Sid, who was arrested on 25 August 2021; Slimane Bouhafs, a refugee and Christian Amazigh activist who was 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) [7] – 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 for “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 RCD members 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, alleging that its activities contradicted its statutes. At least 11 members of RAJ have already 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 being prosecuted 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, of 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, using 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 (he had been held in pretrial detention since 29 April 2021 in another terrorist 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 were already subjected to judicial harassment. 

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  • Co-signatories

    Signatories

    1. AfricanDefenders (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. French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT)
    11. General Confederation of Labor (CGT, France)
    12. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
    13. International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF)
    14. Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL)
    15. Justitia Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights in Algeria
    16. MENA Rights Group
    17. National Autonomous Union of Public Administration Staff (SNAPAP)
    18. Public Services International (PSI)
    19. Riposte Internationale
    20. Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (CCOO, Spain)
    21. L’Union syndicale - Solidaires
    22. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)

  • Member organisations - Algeria
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    Algeria
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    Algeria

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