Algeria: State reprisals against human rights defenders cooperating with UN mechanisms must be ended

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September 1st 2022 - The continued harassment of human rights defender Kaddour Chouicha is a blatant example of the widespread repression exercised by the Algerian authorities against all dissenting voices in the country. The undersigned organisations call on the authorities in Algeria to put an immediate end to the harassment against him and all other human rights defenders in the country.

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, Kaddour 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 Kaddour 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 was participating in meetings at the Human Rights Council on 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. 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 organisations 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 organisations 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, the strategy of searching for compromises with authoritarian regimes would impede the processes of democratization 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) Kaddour Chouicha, Jamila Loukil, Said Boudour, and 12 other peaceful activists, were prosecuted on terrorism-related charges. The Public Prosecutor charged them with “conspiracy against state security to incite citizens to take up arms against the authority of the state or to undermine the integrity of the national territory, propaganda of foreign origin or inspiration likely to harm the national interest, and registration in a terrorist or subversive organisation operating abroad or In Algeria,” according to articles 77, 78, 87 bis, 87 bis 3, 87 bis 6, 87 bis 12 and 96 of the Penal Code. The list of charges reflects the Algerian authorities’ deliberate unfair association of the peaceful and legitimate activity of human rights defenders and terrorist crimes, in a manner that allows them to be sentenced to long prison terms of up to 20 years.

In this context, the undersigned organisations demand:

1. UN Special procedures and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) should immediately and publicly raise concerns to Algerian authorities about the continuous targeting and reprisals against human rights defender Kaddour Chouicha.

2. International bodies and independent international and regional human rights organisations should work to ensure that Algerian civil society is able to operate freely and free from reprisals and repression, especially the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights.

3. Algerian authorities should urgently and 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.

4. 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 through the use of unfounded terrorism charges to imprison them.

5. 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.

Background information:

The Algerian authorities’ abuse of counterterrorism as a tool of reprisal against HRDs:

Executive decree n°21-384 of 7 October 2021 laid out the modalities of the establishment and listing of the national terrorist list, under which the listed entities or individuals can be subjected to severe restrictions (travel ban, asset freeze, and the prohibition from engaging in political, union, or public activities). According to the decree, the listing process is solely based on a preliminary and independent investigation by security bodies, without judicial oversight and legislative regulations. On this basis, a commission chaired by the Minister of Interior and composed of several other ministers and heads of security bodies, decides on the inclusion and removal of individuals and entities onto the list. The lack of independent review runs counter to international standards that require an independent investigation before imposing punishment.

On 27 December 2021, UN Special Procedures warned that counter-terrorism legislation undermined fundamental rights and imposed disproportionate penalties for acts that should not be addressed by counter-terrorism legislation. They stated that the procedures for listing the names of entities and individuals on the national terrorist list did not comply with international human rights standards and expressed "concern that this legislative framework could give rise to abuse and allow arbitrary decisions to be made".

Between April and October 2021, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) documented at least 59 individuals prosecuted on unfounded terrorism charges. We mention them as an example but not limited to.

1. On 29 April 2021, human rights defenders (HRDs) Kaddour Chouicha, Jamila Loukil and Said Boudour, and 12 other peaceful activists, were prosecuted on terrorism-related charges.

2. Protester Hakima Bahri was arrested on 21 May 2021 for "participation in a terrorist organisation".

3. On 26 May 2021, human rights lawyer Abderraouf Arslane, Member of the Collective for the Defense of Hirak Detainees, was arrested and prosecuted for participation in a terrorist organisation (Articles 87bis 2 and 87bis 3 of the Penal Code).

4. Activists Fatima Boudouda and Moufida Kharchi have been in pretrial detention since 21 May 2021 on terrorism-related charges.

5. Trade unionist Ramzi Derder and three other activists,Aissam Messadia, Okba Toulmit and Oussama Medaci, were arrested in Batna on 27-30 June 2021 on terrorism charges.

6. On 24 August 2021, minority rights defender Kamira Nait Sidive forcibly disappeared, she was then charged with several terrorism-related accusations.

7. Christian Amazigh activist Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian refugee, was forcibly returned from Tunis on 25 August 2021 to be prosecuted for "participation in a terrorist organisation".

8. Fifteen Amazigh activists and journalist Mohamed Mouloudj were arrested between 2-14 September 2021 and prosecuted on terrorism charges.

9. Former policeman Zahir Moulaoui was detained on 5 October 2021 and accused of "participation in a terrorist organisation" and "praising terrorism".

10. Human rights defender Mohad Gasmi was sentenced to three years in prison on 9 June 2022 for "praising terrorism" based on critical social media posts; he was also sentenced to three years of jail on 15 June 2022, found guilty of “revealing confidential information without the intention of treason or espionage” (Article 67 of the Penal Code) for his travels abroad to attend environmental conferences and for email exchanges about the exploitation of shale gas in the south of Algeria.

11. On 12 September 2021, journalist Hassan Bouras was placed in pretrial detention on eight misdemeanors and criminal charges related to terrorism. Bouras risks the death penalty, for online publications about the oxygen crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as about the murder of Hirak activist Djamel Bensmail, lynched by a crowd on 11 August 2021.

12. On 10 November 2021, activist Bouabdellah Bouachria was sentenced to nine years for charges including “praising terrorism”.

13. On 18 February 2022, HRD Zaki Hannache was arrested for "praising terrorism", "undermining national unity", “receiving funds undermining national unity”, "displaying and distributing publications likely to harm the national interest", and “dissemination of false information”, based on his human rights work documenting arbitrary prosecutions and arrests related to the Hirak or the exercise of civil and political freedoms since 2019 (the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is leading communication on his case). He was released on 30 March 2022 but the charges against him have not been dropped by the prosecutor and case against him remains pending.

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