The Algerian authorities must ensure that the investigation into the enforced disappearance for 20 days of activist Abdelhamid Bouziza, is independent, effective and impartial, Amnesty International said today.
Judicial authorities in Tlemcen ordered the opening of an investigation in November, however in at least three cases documented by Amnesty International, investigations into human rights violations in Algeria such as the suspicious deaths in custody or torture of activists at the hands of the police have not resulted in justice and reparations for the victims.
“Bouziza’s family and lawyer looked desperately for him for weeks while the authorities withheld information about his exact whereabouts. This precedent is extremely worrying. Algerian authorities should shed the light on what happened to Bouziza and bring those responsible for his enforced disappearance to justice,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“This incident is part of a wider pattern of human rights violations in Algeria, where hundreds of activists and protesters have been arbitrarily detained, and dozens were subjected to torture and other ill treatment at the hands of the security forces. Yet security forces responsible for these violations continue to enjoy impunity.”
On 19 October, Bouziza was detained by security forces at his home in Tlemcen, a city in the West of Algeria. Bouziza’s family and lawyers made multiple attempts to locate him, in Tlemcen, Algiers, and Blida, but police in Tlemcen denied that he was detained. Judicial authorities in three cities denied that he had been charged or was scheduled to appear before their courts. His family and lawyers could not identify his whereabouts or call or visit him.
On 6 November, his lawyer filed a complaint before the Court of Tlemcen asking them to investigate his client’s enforced disappearance. It was only after that, on 8 November that lawyers who went to the Court of Boufarik confirmed to Bouziza’s lawyer in Tlemcen that he appeared before the court of Boufarik on 24 October and that he was detained in Hay El Darwich Prison in Blida, a place more than 470 kilometres away from where the activist and his family live. On 8 November, the Prosecutor General of the Tlemcen Court heard Bouziza’s family members’ testimony about the complaint filed by the defence team. On 10 November, Bouziza received his first prison visit by his brother and mother.
Bouziza’s lawyers suspect he is held on terrorism-related charges for posts he made on social media about the arrests and trials of other activists in the country.
Since April 2021, Algerian authorities have extensively resorted to the use of the counterterrorism provisions in the Penal Code to prosecute activists and human rights defenders who voice dissenting opinions online or participate in peaceful protests.
In the past years, Algeria has not effectively investigated human rights violations in police custody, including cases of death and ill-treatment and torture. In March 2021, a judge in El Bayadh Court refused to open an investigation into torture claims of activist Ayoub Chahetou, who said he was raped by police officers. Until today, authorities did not make public the results of the investigations opened into the deaths in custody of peaceful protester Ramzi Yettou and human rights defender Kameleddine Fekhar, in April and May 2019 respectively.
Bouziza, 25, has been an activist in the Hirak movement and regularly posts on his social media accounts about the arrests and trials of activists in Algeria. In April 2022, Bouziza, along with 12 others, was convicted in absentia and handed a one-year prison sentence and a fine for “inciting an unarmed gathering” after the 13 individuals took part in a demonstration in the streets of Tlemcen on 19 March 2021.
In November 2021, he was given a three-year sentence for “insulting the President”, “offending a public body”, “publishing fake news that might harm public security” and “inciting an unarmed gathering” after he published five online posts, some criticizing Algeria’s President and secret services and one calling for protests to resume in the streets. His sentence was reduced on appeal and he was released in February.
Under Algerian law, those arrested on terrorism charges can be held in police custody for a maximum of 12 days, and must be allowed to communicate with, and be visited by, their family.
Algeria is yet to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Nonetheless, the prohibition of enforced disappearance is provided for in a number of international instruments binding on Algeria, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.