The Algerian authorities are increasingly resorting to broadly worded terrorism-related charges to prosecute journalists, human rights defenders and political activists and to criminalize two political organizations by labelling them as “terrorists” in a new clampdown on dissent, Amnesty International said today.
In June, the authorities amended the definition of “terrorism” to allow the prosecution of peaceful activists and critical voices. Journalists Hassan Bouras and Mohamed Mouloudj are the latest to be subjected to this alarming new trend. Both face potential prosecution for their online publications criticizing the authorities and for their affiliation with two organisations, the unregistered political opposition group, Rachad, and the group Movement for the Self-determination of the Kabylie (MAK). They have been charged for terrorism-related offences, including under Article 87bis, which carries the death penalty and vaguely defines terrorism as any act “against state security, the integrity of the territory, the stability and normal functioning of state institutions.”
“The Algerian authorities have escalated their tactics to silence peaceful dissent by using terrorism-related charges to demonize and delegitimize peaceful activists and journalists. This is merely a smokescreen to hide their bitter repression of activism,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Amnesty International calls on the Algerian authorities to immediately release Hassan Bouras and Mohamed Mouloudj and drop these unfounded charges against them. It is abhorrent to see those seeking to exercise their right to freedom of expression prosecuted in such a systematic way.”
In May, the Algerian High Security Council labelled the two organisations as “terrorist” entities. Since then, dozens of individuals have been arrested and prosecuted under terrorism charges for their alleged ties to the two organizations, including human rights defenders and journalists Kaddour Chouicha, Said Boudour and Djamila Loukil along with 12 other civil society and political activists.
In June, the authorities broadened the definition of terrorism in Article 87bis of the Penal Code to include “attempting to gain power or change the system of governance by unconstitutional means.”
On 6 September, police arrested Hassan Bouras in the city of El Bayadh, west of Algeria, and on 12 September, Mohamed Mouloudj was arrested in Algiers. Police seized their phones and computers. Investigative judges from the Sidi M’hamed tribunal ordered their provisional detentions on 12 and 14 September, respectively, pending investigation into charges including “spreading fake news,” “harming national security” and committing “a terrorist act,”– a charge that carries the death penalty if convicted.
In Algiers, a judge tasked with prosecuting electronic crimes interrogated Bouras for his alleged links with Rachad and reviewed his Facebook profile. Amnesty International also reviewed several of his Facebook posts published in recent weeks and found nothing that called for violence or hatred. Instead, Bouras mostly used Facebook to comment on the latest developments in Algeria, including the oxygen crisis due to the surge in Covid-19 cases and the murder of activist Djamel Bensmail on 11 August, who was lynched by a mob during the fires in Kabylie.
According to his wife, police officers arrested Mohamed Mouloudj in front of the headquarters of the Liberté newspaper, where he works in Algiers. Police transferred him to the gendarmerie station in the eastern city of Tizi Ouzou, and held him in pre-charge detention for two days. The gendarmerie then presented him before the Sidi M’hamed tribunal in Algiers, where a judge ordered his pre-trial detention after reviewing his social media profile. They accused him of alleged ties with MAK and its president Ferhat Mehenni after he requested an interview with him in January 2021, although it did not happen.
Amnesty International reviewed Mouloudj’s most recent posts and found them to be comments about the latest events in the Kabylie region.
“There is nothing to suggest that either Hassan Bouras or Mohamed Mouloudj have done anything wrong other than exercise their right to express themselves freely. It is clear that the authorities are shamefully resorting to counter-terrorism legislation as a tactic to silence dissent”, said Amna Guellali.
Both journalists are now awaiting their trials. Bouras is detained in the prison of Kolea, near Algiers but hundreds of kilometres away from his family. Mouloudj is detained in El Harrach prison in Algiers.
Hassan Bouras is a journalist, a political activist and a member of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, who has denounced government corruption in his home city El Bayadh. He was previously sentenced in November 2016 to one year in prison, which was reduced to six months on appeal, for denouncing security officers’ bribes, and spent three months in jail.
Mohamed Mouloudj is a journalist who joined national newspaper Liberté, one of the few remaining independent newspapers in Algeria, in 2012. He is the second Liberté journalist to be detained on baseless accusations after Rabah Kareche was arrested in April and sentenced to a year in prison in August, four months of which are suspended, for articles he published about a protest by Tuaregs in Tamanrasset, southern Algeria.