Algeria: Drop trumped-up charges against three human rights defenders

The Algerian authorities must immediately drop all charges against human rights defenders Kaddour Chouicha, Jamila Loukil and Said Boudour, as well as 12 other Hirak activists who all face the death penalty or lengthy prison sentences based on trumped-up charges of “participation in a terrorist organization” and “conspiracy against the state” in connection to their participation in peaceful protests, Amnesty International said ahead of their court hearing on 18 May.

University professor Kaddour Chouicha and journalists Jamila Loukil and Said Boudour are members of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) and have been part of the Hirak movement calling for radical political change in Algeria through a series of largely peaceful protests since February 2019.

"We are deeply concerned by this case against the brave human rights defenders. It represents a worrying new trend of Algerian authorities using terrorism-related legislation to repress the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression ahead of the elections in June. These charges are merely a smokescreen to silence the voices of these human rights defenders and suppress their activism,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“We urge the Algerian authorities to halt these trials against human rights defenders, Hirak activists guarantee the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly ahead of the June legislative elections.”

The charges brought by the prosecution hinge on allegations that they are linked to the political movement Rachad, which the authorities have accused of infiltrating the Hirak protest movement in an effort to undermine it. Kaddour Chouicha, Jamila Loukil and Said Boudour deny any affiliation with Rachad. On 18 May, the accusation chamber of Oran court will decide whether they will remain free pending trial or be kept in pre-trial detention for up to 16 months.

Algeria’s authorities have stepped up their crackdown against Hirak activists in recent days with at least 44 protesters detained and prosecuted for participating in peaceful demonstrations on 14 May. In total, at least 124 activists are currently in detention in Algeria in connection with their participation in the protests, according to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees (CNLD), a local watchdog group.

‘I had blood on my face’

Journalist Said Boudour said he was violently arrested by five police officers while covering a Hirak protest in Oran on 23 April. He told Amnesty International:

“They kicked us, hit us with their fists and batons, slapped us and insulted us. I still have marks near my mouth from where they hit me. I had blood on my face.”

He was held in police custody until 29 April on accusations of terrorism and conspiracy against the state.

On 28 April, university professor Kaddour Chouicha, who is also vice-president of LADDH, and journalist Jamila Loukil were arrested without a warrant as they left a hearing in Oran Court, stemming from a previous prosecution for “unarmed gathering” in 2019. They were prosecuted the following day on terrorism and conspiracy charges along with Said Boudour and 12 other Hirak activists.

The charges brought against the 15 Hirak activists include recruiting mercenaries on behalf of a foreign power, inciting citizens against the authority of the State, which carries the death penalty, conspiracy against state security, enrolment in a terrorist or subversive organization active abroad or in Algeria, and publications harming national interest, based on articles 76, 77, 78, 87 bis and 96 of the Penal Code, respectively.

Kaddour Chouicha and Jamila Loukil were provisionally released pending the outcome of the 18 May hearing. Said Boudour was placed under judicial control, along with two other Hirak activists, and must sign-in at the police station every 15 days.

Background

These prosecutions are the latest in the Algerian authorities’ ongoing repression of protests and targeting of journalists and prominent figures in Hirak and come ahead of the legislative elections scheduled for 12 June. However, this is the first time that terrorism-related charges are being used against journalists and human rights defenders in the Hirak movement.

Since the start of the Hirak movement in 2019, Said Boudour has been arrested three times and prosecuted on charges including “offending public bodies” and “defamation”, under articles 146 and 298 of the Penal Code. Kaddour Chouicha has been arrested at least nine times since the start of Hirak and he has been prosecuted in three legal cases for charges including incitement to unarmed gathering. Jamila Loukil has been arrested four times since the start of Hirak.