Algeria repression ©Photo by AFP via Getty Images

Algeria: Mounting repression as more human rights defenders are detained

Algerian authorities have ramped up their assault on civil society in recent weeks, with 27 human rights defenders and peaceful activists arrested in February alone, Amnesty International said today.

On 20 February, a court in the western city of Tlemcen sentenced Faleh Hammoudi, head of the local chapter of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH), to three years in prison and a fine of 100000 dinars (705 USD). Days later, on 24 February, an investigative judge in Algiers ordered the pretrial detention of Zaki Hannache, an activist known for his work monitoring the government crackdown on the Hirak, a mass protest movement calling for political change in the country since 2019.

The Algerian authorities initially tolerated some protests and limited prosecutions to targeting those carrying the Amazigh flag during demonstrations; however, they have sought to suppress Hirak protests since 2021, have arrested hundreds of activists, human rights defenders and journalists, held them in pretrial detention or sentenced them under vaguely worded charges, including terrorism. There are currently at least 290 people languishing in Algerian jails simply for peacefully expressing their opinions, according to both the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees, a national watchdog group, and the LADDH.

“The spurious and politically motivated charges against Faleh Hammoudi and Zaki Hannache are characteristic of the intensifying crackdown on dissent by Algerian authorities, who are weaponizing the law to silence their critics,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Three years since the Hirak protest movement began, there is no end in sight to the Algerian authorities’ escalation of repression.  We are calling for the release of all peaceful activists and human rights defenders in Algeria.”

Algerian authorities arrested Faleh Hammoudi on 19 February and sentenced him the following day, after an interview he gave to the Algerian TV channel Al Maghribiya TV in which he commented on human rights violations in Algeria. This is known as an “immediate appearance” procedure and normally applies to people caught in the act of committing a crime. He was sentenced for “offending public bodies”, “spreading fake news” that might harm national security and running an “unregistered association”. The first two charges relate to his comments in the interview, while the third charge is linked to his activities with LADDH, which the authorities are accusing of noncompliance with a draconian 2012 law on associations.

Three years since the Hirak protest movement began, there is no end in sight to the Algerian authorities’ escalation of repression.  We are calling for the release of all peaceful activists and human rights defenders in Algeria.

Amna Guellali, Amnesty International

Another eight members of LADDH are currently being prosecuted for their participation in Hirak, or for criticism of the authorities. At least four are facing charges related to terrorism, defined very vaguely under Algerian law to include “attempting to gain power or change the system of governance by unconstitutional means.”

Among them is Hassan Bouras, currently on hunger strike to protest his pretrial detention since 12 September. Kaddour Chouicha, vice President of LADDH as well as Djamila Loukil and Said Boudour, LADDH members in Oran, are also being prosecuted on terrorism-related charges since April 2021 but are not in detention.

Zaki Hannache was arrested on 19 February and is being charged with “spreading fake news” in relation to his documentation of hunger strikes by several pre-trial detainees, who were arrested for participating in Hirak protests or for criticizing the authorities. Zaki also faces a charge of “apology of terrorism” in relation to his online publications, including a post that Zaki published in February about exiled YouTuber Amir DZ, who is subject to an arrest warrant because of his activism.

In December 2021, Zaki Hannache won the Ali Boudoukha prize for his work documenting the arrests of activists, peaceful protesters and journalists. According to a lawyer with knowledge of the case, police seized the award and prize money while arresting Zaki at his home, and he is facing a further charge of receipt of money for purposes of “harming the security of the state or the normal functioning of institutions, or the national unity, or the territorial integrity or the fundamental interests of Algeria or security or public order” under Article 95 bis of the Penal Code which could result in a prison sentence of up to seven years and a fine of 700000 Algerian dinars (4943 USD).

Background

LADDH is one of the main human rights groups in Algeria. It is a member of several international non-governmental organizations such as Euromed Rights and the International Federation of Human Rights. 

Like many civil society groups in Algeria, LADDH was legally registered but faced administrative obstacles when it tried to obtain a new registration as per a 2012 law. This situation puts its members at risk of prosecution and jail for conducting activities in a “non-accredited, suspended or dissolved” association.