Algeria: guarantee a fair trial for minority rights activists


MDE 28/6369/2017

Algerian authorities should drop all charges against a prominent activist and his 40 co-defendants based on their peaceful activism for the rights of the Amazigh or Berber minority, Human Rights Watch, EuroMed Rights, Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders. said today. Kamaleddine Fekhar and most of his co-defendants have been detained since July 2015. With regard to other charges related to the violence the defendants face, the authorities should immediately release them from pre-trial detention, unless there is have an individual justification in each case of the need for their continued detention on remand. detention after almost two years. All detainees have the right to a trial within a reasonable time. The defendants face very similar charges, including murder, terrorism and other serious crimes that can carry the death penalty, for their alleged role in the deadly ethnic clashes that erupted in the Mzab region between 2013 and 2015 .

“If the Algerian authorities are to try those suspected of inciting and participating in deadly violence in the province of Ghardaia, this should be done on the basis of solid and individualized evidence,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director to Human Rights Watch. The indictments chamber, a pre-trial chamber responsible for confirming or dismissing charges based on a report by an investigating judge, issued its 150-page decision to send the case back to trial on February 14, 2017 The signatory organizations have reviewed the report. Algeria’s High Court dismissed the defense appeal against the ruling, and the trial opened on May 25. Fekhar headed the section of the Algerian League for Human Rights in the city of Ghardaïa from 2004 to 2014. At the end of 2013, he founded the Movement for Autonomy. of Mzab, a region in the northern Sahara, and condemned the government for what it called a policy of apartheid and discrimination against the Mozabites, an Amazigh ethnic minority in the region.

Most of the co-defendants are also pro-Amazigh activists in favor of Mzab autonomy. “No one should be prosecuted for his peaceful advocacy for minority rights, including regional autonomy and independence, in accordance with Algeria’s international obligations,” said Michel Tubiana, President of EuroMed Rights. Under international human rights law, governments can sanction incitement to violence, hatred or discrimination. But laws prohibiting incitement must be defined in a clear, narrow and specific manner consistent with the protection of the right to freedom of expression. Prosecutions for incitement to violence should be limited to cases where the incitement is intentional and directly related to the violence. Prosecutions for incitement to hatred or discrimination should never include peaceful advocacy for the rights of a segment of the population or regional autonomy or independence. The court rejected defense lawyers’ requests that their clients be released on bail pending trial, most recently on February 14. In addition to the erroneous charges and evidence, the accused’s long pre-trial detention, without in each case justifying the need for his continued detention, violates his rights to liberty and due process, which include the presumption of detention. on bail. Article 14.3 (c) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Algeria with its Optional Protocol, states that “in the determination of any criminal charge, everyone has the right to be tried without undue delay. “.

The Principles and guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1999, state that “unless there is sufficient evidence which deems it necessary prevent a person arrested on a criminal charge from fleeing, interfering with witnesses or posing obvious and serious risk to others, states must ensure that they are not held in detention pending trial . “The victims of the tragic events in Mzab deserve justice, which a deeply flawed trial cannot deliver,” said Heba Morayef, North Africa research director at Amnesty International.

Background information

Fekhar went on a hunger strike on January 3, 2017 to demand her release, but suspended her on April 20. Authorities arrested Fekhar and 30 co-accused on July 9, 2015, in a house he owns in the city of Ghardaia following intercommunal violence. which erupted in Ghardaia province earlier this month, the latest outbreak in this ethnically tense region.

The other defendants were arrested in 2016, on July 26 and December 12. Violence has erupted sporadically between Mozabites and Arabs in the province of Ghardaia since 2013. One of the deadliest episodes, from July 7 to 10, 2015, left around 25 people dead. and more than 70 wounded in the two communities, most of them by gunshots, according to media reports. The indictment chamber approved charges against Fekhar which include terrorism, incitement to hatred or discrimination, distribution of material harmful to the national interest and defamation of state institutions, all while under the penal code. In addition to these charges, some of his co-defendants have also been charged with forming a criminal gang to commit premeditated crimes and murders. Several of these offenses carry the death penalty. The indictments chamber report, which sets out the charges, is problematic for three reasons: first, the report fails to cite evidence against defendants for offenses that criminalize violence, such as “terrorism” provisions , murder and arson; second, it includes offenses that should be abolished as they criminalize peaceful speech protected by international human rights conventions, such as “defaming state institutions” and “distributing material harmful to the national interest. “; and thirdly, it includes offenses which are recognizable, such as incitement to hatred, discrimination or violence, but which must be proven according to narrow and precise definitions of these offenses, in accordance with the obligation of l Algeria to respect the right to freedom of expression.

The indictment chamber report does not cite any evidence that Fekhar or any other co-accused planned or carried out an act of violence. Instead, he justifies the charges on the basis of recordings of their speeches, without providing evidence that they contained incitement to violence; the fact that they held meetings; and their membership in Amazigh movements. The chamber also considered that an unidentified individual near Fekhar’s house had targeted the judicial police officers by pointing a gun and throwing home-made explosive devices during the operation. arrest as proof that the defendants were part of a criminal gang. The individual did not injure any police officer and escaped capture and is therefore not among the accused. The indictment chamber report cites a video of a meeting between Fekhar and several of the co-accused, dated October 5, 2013. According to the report, in this video, Fekhar declares a “divorce” between the Mozabites and the Arabs is inevitable. . He berates the police for not prosecuting those responsible for the violence targeting the Mozabite community, calls the Arabs “invaders” and “hypocrites”, and declares that the “authorities are dictatorial, corrupt, criminal, repressive” and biased towards the Arab populations.

The report quotes another video in which Fekhar is said to have said: “We are in our land and in the lands of our ancestors, the Arabs are not guests but invaders; we have to get them out of our land and all of North Africa, Daesh [Islamic State] is the root cause of corruption and crime. As for the other defendants, the indictment chamber cites police reports identifying them among those present at the meeting shown in the October 2013 video. The chamber also cites statements the defendants made to police acknowledging that ‘they are pro-autonomy activists, their presence in Fekhar’s house during the arrest operation of July 9, 2015, and their participation in marches or demonstrations for the rights of the Mozabites. Presenting evidence of criminal gang membership and an attempt to destabilize state security, the court lists the pro-autonomy groups in which Fekhar and others were active.

About Wesley V. Finley

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