ALGERIA: The authorities must stop harassing labour rights activists

Urgent Appeal
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Copenhagen-Paris-Geneva, March 13, 2015 – The Euro-Mediterranean Network for Human Rights (EMNHR) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), denounce the serious violations of the right to a fair trial during the last hearing against nine activists of the National Committee for the Defence of the Rights of Unemployed Workers (Comité National pour la Défense des Droits de Chômeurs - CNDDC), held on March 11, 2015 in Laghouat (400 km south of Algiers).

On that day, an inordinate number of police officers were deployed, thereby preventing the public and the witnesses for the defence to enter the courtroom, which constitutes a violation of the rights of the defence and the right to a fair trial. Outside the courtroom, the police arrested close to 50 peaceful demonstrators who were expressing their solidarity with the nine prisoners. All those demonstrators were released thereafter. As a protest, the coalition of lawyers for the defence decided to withdraw. The appeals hearing for Mr. Mohamed Rag has been postponed until March 18, 2015; the appeals hearing for the other eight activists, Messrs. Khencha Belkacem, Brahimi Belelmi, Mazouzi Benallal, Azzouzi Boubakeur, Korini Belkacem, Bekouider Faouzi, Bensarkha Tahar and Djaballah Abdelkader, has been scheduled for March 25, 2015

These activists were arrested on January 28, 2015 and sentenced by the Laghouat Court of First Instance on February 11 to one year in prison with a 6-month suspended sentence and a fine of 5,000 Algerian dinars for “gathering” (Art. 97 of the Penal Code) and “exercising pressure on the decisions of magistrates” (Art. 147 of the Penal Code). Mr. Mohamed Rag, who has been in prison since January 22, 2015, was sentenced on that same day to 18 months in prison and a fine of 20,000 Algerian dinars for “assaulting a security force agent in the exercise of his duties”, under Article 148 of the Penal Code. Our organisations have repeatedly denounced the conditions of their arrest and detention, which seem to aim only at sanctioning their human rights activities.

Our organisations also condemn the increase in the number of judicial harassment cases which seem to single out other activists, in particular Mr. Rachid Aouine and three other members of CNDDC in the city of El Oued (620 km south-east of Algiers). Mr. Aouine was sentenced by the El Oued Court of First Instance on March 9, 2015 to six months in prison and a fine of 50,000 Algerians dinars for “instigation of an unarmed gathering” by virtue of Article 100 of the Algerian Penal Code. He had posted a comment on Facebook urging the police to stand up for their rights instead of repressing the demonstrators. Mr. Abdelhamid Brahimi, who criticised the El Oued police on Facebook for the brutal arrest of the members of Rachid Aouine’s family whom had gathered peacefully on March 3 to call for Rachid’s release, was arrested that same day and charged with “instigating a gathering” on the basis of his comments on this social network. He was finally released on March 9. Last, Messrs. Ferhat Missa and Youssef Sultani were arrested on March 1 and 3, 2015 respectively, and then were released. They will be judged on March 16 and 19 for “instigating a gathering” because they participated in peaceful demonstrations in El Oued.

Our organisations call upon the Algerian authorities to:
· Immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Rachid Aouine, Mohamed Rag, Khencha Belkacem, Brahimi Belelmi, Mazouzi Benallal, Azzouzi Boubakeur, Korini Belkacem, Bekouider Faouzi, Bensarkha Tahar and Djaballah Abdelkader, as their detention seems to aim only at sanctioning their human rights activities;

· Put an end to any act of harassment against all the aforementioned human right defenders, including at the judicial level, in compliance with the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;

· Guarantee the right to a fair trial and ensure a minimum guarantee for the rights of the defence in compliance with article 14(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Algeria.
· Guarantee the right to freedom of assembly, association and expression, in compliance with the Algerian Constitution and the provisions of the ICCPR.

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