Algeria: New law on associations used to stifle civil society

The conviction of an activist in Algeria after he distributed leaflets about unemployment in the country is a worrying sign that a new law regulating associations is being used to restrict civil society groups’ activities, Amnesty International said.

On 6 May, Abdelkader Kherba, a member of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) and the National Committee for the Defence of the Rights of the Unemployed (CNDDC) was sentenced to a two-month suspended prison term and a fine of 20,000 Algerian dinars (about USD 250) for distributing leaflets on unemployment in Algeria in June 2011.

He had been previously harassed by the authorities because of his work on behalf of unemployed people or in support of trade-unionists.

“The latest court case against Abdelkader Kherba is yet another example of how the authorities in Algeria are misusing the law and the judicial system to intimidate those who advocate for social and economic rights,” said Ann Harrison, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“If this sentence is not quashed, it will send the message that the new law on associations will be used to further restrict activists and groups who peacefully campaign on issues the authorities may regard as a threat.”

Abdelkader Kherba told Amnesty International: “This conviction is an attempt to prevent me and other activists to continue our peaceful actions. It is a way to increase pressure on us.”

The Appeal Court of the city of Médéa (about 80 km south-west of the capital Algiers) convicted Kherba under Article 46 of Law 12-06 relating to Associations, which came into force in January 2012.

Article 46 exposes active members of non-registered associations to prison terms ranging from three to six months and hefty fines.

Algeria has seen protests over poverty, unemployment and corruption increase during the past two years and a number of activists and trade unionists have faced judicial harassment and prosecution simply for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly. 

In April 2012 Kherba was fined and received a suspended prison sentence of one year after a court convicted him of “direct incitement to a gathering” for joining and filming a sit-in protest by judicial clerks.

He was again arrested, detained and prosecuted in August 2012 after attempting to film a demonstration against water cuts at Ksar El Boukhari, Médéa. Charged with insulting and committing violence against an official, he was acquitted and released on 11 September.

Although Algeria lifted its 31-year state of emergency in 2011 amid region-wide anti-government demonstrations, civil society groups and human rights activists continue to suffer threats and harassment from the authorities, and the government has introduced new laws restricting the media and NGOs.

Law 12-06 relating to Associations tightens controls on civil society groups and gives the authorities the power to deny them registration or funding and suspend or dissolve them. Many articles in the new law contravene Algeria’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which enshrines the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

In May 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association stated that persons involved in unregistered associations should be free to carry out activities, including the right to hold and participate in peaceful assemblies, and should not be subject to criminal sanctions.

In March 2013, the Algerian authorities prevented a delegation of trade unionists and civil society activists, including members of the LADDH and the CNDDC, from crossing the border into Tunisia to attend the World Social Forum, violating their right to freedom of movement, also provided for by the ICCPR.