In February 2019, peaceful weekly protests known as “Hirak” swept Algeria. Initially opposing a fifth mandate of then-President Bouteflika, the protests have then called for “a complete change of the political system,” and saw millions of people marching through the streets of major Algerian cities and smaller towns demanding their human rights. and freedoms. After attempting to suppress the protests at the outset, the authorities shifted policy and largely tolerated them for several months.  However, that did not last for long as they increasingly targeted protesters, journalists, human rights defenders, activists, and bloggers, many of whom targeted with arbitrary arrests and prosecutions simply for engaging in peaceful protests and expressing political opinions on social media.

HARASSMENT AND INTIMIDATION OF CRITICS

The authorities’ harassment, intimidation and attack on dissidents continued to intensify throughout the months following the legislative elections of June 2021 and leading up to the third Hirak anniversary in February 2022. According to local watchdogs, as of May 2022, there are 266 activists and protesters who languish in Algerian prisons for having participated in the Hirak, denounced corruption publicly, reported lack of the rule of law, or spoken up in solidarity of the detainees and against human rights abuses. Many are held in pretrial detention for unjustified long periods of time, others sentenced to harsh sentences under problematic articles in the Penal Code such as “harming” the national security or interest, “undermining national unity”, “offending” public officials, “incitement” to unarmed gathering, spreading fake news, and terrorism.

JUDICIAL HARRASSEMENT

Amnesty International talked to families of detainees and to their lawyers to learn about their conditions of detention, the judicial harassment they were subjected to and understand the extent to which these detentions have impacted their lives. These individual stories highlight the urgent need for the immediate and unconditional release of these detainees and fundamental reform of legislation that enable serious violations of people’s rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including possible torture and other ill-treatment. The documentation covers the stories of the following 7 individuals arrested under different circumstances and locations inside and outside Algeria: Mohad Gasmi, Merzoug Touati, Mohamed Benhlima, Malik Riahi, Soheib Debbaghi and Ahmad Tarek Debbaghi, Noureddine Khimoud.

266

Total number of Hirak detainees according to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees

Photo by Farouk Batiche/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images_

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READ THEIR STORIES



Merzoug Touati
Bejaia North Eastern Algeria

Who is Merzoug Touati?

Merzoug Touati is the founder of an independent news page called “Al-Hogra” in 2015 and served as a journalist at L’Avant-Garde, an independent Algerian newspaper. The Algerian authorities targeted him multiple times since 2017 for documenting human rights violations and reporting on political developments. He was sentenced to one year in prison for Facebook posts in solidarity with other detainees and released following a presidential pardon on 21 June 2022. He is still facing charges of and risks more time in prison.

What are the charges used against him and his sentence?

Merzoug Touati was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine on 3 January 2022 for “publishing fake news” and “harming public institutions” for a Facebook post in which he exposed the prison conditions of an opinion detainee.

While serving his initial one year sentence in prison, three new cases were brought against him for charges including “incitement to unarmed gathering”, “publications that could undermine national unity” and “collecting charity without authorization”.

He looked pale and was dragging his feet and couldn’t stand tall from pain

Nfissa Touati, Merzouq's wife



Mohad Gasmi
Adrar South of Algeria

Who is Mohad Gasmi?

Mohad Gasmi is one of the leaders of the protest movement against the exploitation of shale gas in southern Algeria. He actively participated in the Hirak demonstrations which erupted in February 2019 and demanded radical political change in Algeria.



What are the charges used against him and his sentence?

Police in Adrar arrested him on 8 June 2020. In October 2021, he was found guilty of “glorification of terrorism” (Article 87 bis 4 of the Penal Code) for a Facebook post where he attributes the radicalisation of a prominent Algerian militant, considered a “terrorist” by the Algerian authorities, to their failure to deliver justice and dignity to their population.

In the second case, which was brought against him while serving his initial sentence, he was charged with “revealing confidential information without the intention of treason or espionage” (Article 67 of the Penal Code) for travelling abroad to attend environmental conferences and for email exchanges about the exploitation of shale gas in the south of Algeria. Authorities notably accuse him of sharing a picture of military police – a picture already available online – over email. The investigation has not demonstrated how the picture revealed confidential information.

His wife describes his sentence as “harsh”



Mohamed Tadjadit, Soheib & Ahmed Tarek Dabbaghi, Malik Riahi, Noureddine Khimoud


Who are they?

Mohamed Tadjadit, Malik Riahi, Noureddine Khimoud, Soheib Debbaghi and Ahmed Tarek Debbaghi are activists.

*Read below the case summary of each one

What are the charges used against them and their sentences?

All five activists are sentenced to prison terms ranging from 18 months to 2 years on charges including “publishing fake news”, “undermining the private life of a minor child by publishing a picture that may harm the child” and “defaming public institutions and the judiciary” in relation to the publication of a Facebook video  on 3 April 2021, in which a 15-year-old boy sobs uncontrollably and says that he was sexually assaulted by the police following his arrest for participation in a Hirak protest.

At least three of them; Mohamed Tadjadit,
Malik Riahi, Soheib Debbaghi, told their lawyers that
they were subsequently kicked, slapped, and beaten in prison to dissuade them from continuing a hunger strike that they
started on 28 January 2022 to protest their prison conditions
and demand the end
of their detention.

Who is Noureddine Khimoud

Activist- accused of posting a social media post
He marched peacefully for justice and human rights in Algeria since the outbreak of the Hirak movement in 2019.  He used to meet Mohamed Tadjadit and Soheib Debbaghi and all three participated in peaceful protests together.

What are the charges used against him and his sentence?

Noureddine was arrested on 5 April 2021 for his alleged sharing of the video of a minor who said he was abused at a police station. He spent more than 10 months in pre-trial detention without a clear date for his trial. He decided to start a hunger strike on 28 January 2022 along with dozens other detainees to demand the end of pretrial detention and a trial date.

According to his mother and one of his lawyers, Noureddine was beaten up in prison to be dissuaded from continuing the hunger strike. According to his mother, during her visits to him, Noureddine complains of pain around his kidney. A condition that he has not suffered from before. The prison refused to transfer him for exams in a hospital outside prison, but he has been taking medicine prescribed by the prison doctor.

Who are Soheib & Ahmed Tarek Debbaghi?

Activists- Imprisoned for a social media post

Soheib Debbaghi and Ahmed Tarek Debbaghi are cousins. They were both arrested together along with Noureddine Khimoud on 5 April 2021 and accused of publishing a video denouncing violence against a minor in a police station on Algiers.




In February 2022, they both started a hunger strike to protest the prolonged pre-trial detention that they and their friends have been enduring. They were both transferred from Harrash prison to Bouira prison at 4 am the night of 28 January 2022 without notification to their family or lawyers. When family and lawyers visited them during their hunger strike, they confirmed seeing stitches on Soheib’s forehead a trace of the violence he was subjected to.

Who is Malik Riahi?

Activist- Imprisoned for social media posts. Malik Riahi participated in the Hirak peaceful marches every Friday since its start in 2019 and has been outspoken on social media where he cultivated a wide fellowship for his live broadcasting of Hirak marches. Malik has been in prison for 14 months, since 4 April 2021. Malik Riahi is not the only member of his family targeted for expressing his opinions and participation in Hirak. His two siblings were arrested and sentenced to prison for expressing their opinions online and offline. They were later released.

What are the charges used against him and his sentence?

He is sentenced to 18 months in prison for the publication of a video about a minor who allegedly underwent police abuse. He is also sentenced to two years in prison for “publications that undermine national unity” and “incitement to unarmed gathering”, for serving as the admin of the Facebook page of whistleblower and former army officer Mohamed Abdallah for a short period of time.


He is the breadwinner of our family. He is the eldest of 10 siblings. He’s been our support.

Noureddine Khimoud's mother

I am sad for my sons but happy that they didn’t go to prison for something wrong. They went to prison for speaking truth. 

Malik Riahi's mother


Mohamed Benhlima
Asylum seeker in Spain


Who is Mohamed Benhlima?

Whistleblower- imprisoned for exposing corruptionin the army.
Mohamed Benhlima is an Algerian activist and asylum seeker in both Spain and France, former military official, and whistle-blower who had exposed allegations of corruption involving high-ranking Algerian military officials online. He participated in peaceful protests during the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement that swept the country since 2019.

What are the charges used against him and his sentence?

He was sentenced to death in absentia, while still an asylum seeker in Spain, on charges of espionage and desertion. He was also sentenced in absentia to a total of 20 years in prison for charges including “participation in a terrorist group” (Article 87bis 3 of the Penal Code) and “publishing fake news undermining national unity” (Art.196 bis) among other charges.

He left Algeria to seek refuge in Spain in September 2019 after receiving information that his name was on a list of wanted military officials at risk of detention by the Algerian army for their participation in the Hirak protest movement.

The Spanish authorities refouled him to Algeria in March 2022 without completion of due asylum-seeking procedures. He was subjected to violence and pressure. The Algerian authorities imprisoned him immediately in El Harrash prison in Algiers before moving him to El-Blida military prison on 28 April 2022 where he has been in solitary confinement since, according to information that Amnesty International was able to gather.

Call on the Algerian authorities to immediately release all Hirak detainees

WHAT DO THEIR FAMILIES SAY?

Testimony of Nfissa Touati, Merzoug Touati‘s wife

“On 01 March 2022, Merzoug was transferred from Ghardaia prison to Laghouat prison which is 550 KM from my residence in Bejaia. I visited him in this new prison a day after his transfer there, I directly noticed his dismay, he told me that the day before his arrival he was intimidated, prison administration staff told him that they believe his sentence was minimal compared to the crimes he committed according to them. He told me he is in an overcrowded cell with 27 other people and that there is no bed for him, so he sleeps on the bear floor”.

“On 6 April 2022, I visited him again with my mother-in-law and his little brother, he looked pale and was dragging his feet and couldn’t stand tall from pain. I asked him if the prosecutor had come to check on him and learn about his hunger strike. He said that no one had visited him and that the prison management did not recognize his hunger strike and there is no medical or psychological follow up initiated. He told me that he suffers from stomach pain. After the visit, we asked to meet the prison director. The director, who met us at the prison door after hours of waiting during which agents tried to dissuade us from seeing him, denied that Merzoug have started a hunger strike but at the same time he explained that the demands of Merzoug do not fall under his prerogatives”.

After this visit, his wife received news that he had been transferred to a hospital in Laghouat. She told Amnesty International that she traveled to Laghouat, 550 kilometers from her home, on 16 April 2022, and did not find him there. The prison administration gave her inaccurate information. She had to search for him in hospitals and prisons for three days because no one gave her any accurate information. She finally found him in Bouira prison, where she visited him on April 18, 2022. He had been transferred there without any notification to his family or lawyer.


Testimony of Soheib Debbaghi‘s father

“I visited him in Bouira prison immediately after he was transferred there when he and a group of detainees started a hunger strike in protest of their prolonged pre-trial detentions. Soheib told me that the prison guards scolded him and accused him of having incited other detainees to start a hunger strike. He told me that five guards ganged over him, beat him up and banged his head on the wall. Then they tied his arms back and tied him to a wall and left him bleeding for hours. He told me that they took him out of his shared cell and isolated him from his group and other prisoners. His cousin, Ahmed Tarek Debbaghi, detained in the same cell for the same charges, noticed that he had been gone for a long time. He and other prisoners started to make noise. Prison guards took them down to a tiny cell where death row prisoners are held. At 4 am, they transferred him and the four others to Bouira prison, where he remains to date.


Testimony of Noureddine Khimoud’s mother

“He is the breadwinner of our family. He is the eldest of 10 siblings. He’s been our support”.

“He told me that the guards tried to move him to another prison with other hunger strikers when they started the hunger strike but he resisted. He said that when he and others refused to stop the hunger strike and resisted a transfer to another prison, they put them in a filthy cell with what looks like running sewage water. They spent time there with death row prisoners. They were then transferred at 4 am to Bouira prison without notification to us or to their lawyers”.


Testimony of the Riahi’s mother:

Malik was arrested by the police, on 04 April 2021, with no summons.

It was a nightmare for me. “I am sad for my sons but happy that they didn’t go to prison for something wrong. They went to prison for speaking truth. Two eids (Religious holiday celebrated by Muslims yearly) I spent without my kids in Ramadan. When I set the table, my tears come down involuntarily”.


Testimony of Mohad Gasmi’s wife

His wife describes his sentence as “harsh”. She told Amnesty International:

“We filed for provisional release several times ; they were all rejected without justification. My husband was among the very first people to call for Hirak in our region. He is a staunch defender of environmental justice. He has been a target of the authorities for his activism especially against the shale gas drilling in our region. His activism against shale gas had an impact and bothered the authorities a lot.”










Amnesty International urges the Algerian authorities to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release all those imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly and drop all charges against them.

  • Immediately stop using overly broad and repressive laws to prosecute individuals solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

  • Bring to justice in fair trials those suspected of responsibility for grave human rights violations.

  • Provide access to justice and effective remedies for victims of torture and ill-treatment.
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