Algerian authorities have stepped up their attacks on civil society in recent weeks, with the arrest of 27 human rights defenders and peace activists in February alone, Amnesty International said today.
On February 20, a court in the western city of Tlemcen sentenced Faleh Hammoudi, head of the local branch of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), to three years in prison. prison and a fine of 100,000 dinars (705 USD). A few days later, on February 24, an investigating judge in Algiers ordered the pre-trial detention of Zaki Hannache, an activist known for his work monitoring the government crackdown on Hirak, a mass protest movement calling for a political change in the country since 2019.
Algerian authorities initially tolerated some protests and limited prosecution to people carrying the Amazigh flag during protests; however, they have sought to suppress Hirak protests since 2021, arresting hundreds of activists, human rights defenders and journalists, remanding them in custody or sentencing them on vaguely worded charges , including terrorism. There are currently at least 290 people languishing in Algerian prisons simply for peacefully expressing their views, according to the National Committee for the Liberation of Detainees, a national watchdog group, and LADDH.
“The spurious and politically motivated accusations against Faleh Hammoudi and Zaki Hannache are characteristic of the intensified crackdown on dissent by Algerian authorities, who are weaponizing the law to silence their critics,” said Amna Guellali, deputy director of Amnesty International for the Middle East and the North. Africa.
“Three years after the start of the Hirak protest movement, the escalation of the repression by the Algerian authorities is not in sight. We call for the release of all peaceful activists and human rights defenders in Algeria.
Algerian authorities arrested Faleh Hammoudi on February 19 and sentenced him the next day, after an interview he gave to Algerian television channel Al Maghribiya TV in which he commented on human rights violations in Algeria. This procedure is known as the “immediate appearance” procedure and normally applies to people caught in the act of committing a crime. He was sentenced for “offending public bodies”, “disseminating false information” likely to harm national security and managing an “unregistered association”. The first two counts relate to his remarks during the interview, while the third count relates to his activities within the LADDH, which the authorities accuse of not respecting a draconian law. of 2012 on associations.
Three years after the start of the Hirak protest movement, the escalation of the repression by the Algerian authorities is not in sight. We call for the release of all peaceful activists and human rights defenders in Algeria.
Amna Guellali, Amnesty International
Eight other members of the LADDH are currently being prosecuted for their participation in the Hirak, or for having criticized the authorities. At least four of them face charges related to terrorism, defined very loosely by Algerian law as including “the attempt to gain power or change the system of governance by unconstitutional means”.
Among them, Hassan Bouras, currently on hunger strike to protest against his pre-trial detention since September 12. Kaddour Chouicha, vice-president of the LADDH as well as Djamila Loukil and Saïd Boudour, members of the LADDH in Oran, have also been prosecuted for terrorism since April 2021 but are not in detention.
Zaki Hannache was arrested on February 19 and is charged with “spreading false news” in connection with his documentation of the hunger strikes of several pre-trial detainees, who were arrested for participating in Hirak protests or for criticizing the authorities. Zaki also faces a charge of “apology for terrorism” in connection with his online posts, including an article he published in February on exiled YouTuber Amir DZ, which is the subject of a warrant. stopped 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 familiar with the case, police seized the prize and prize money when arresting Zaki at his home, and he faces another charge of receiving money for the purpose of “to harm 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 the security or the public order” under article 95 bis of the Penal Code which can lead to a prison sentence of up to seven years and a fine of 700,000 Algerian dinars (4943 USD).
LADDH is one of the main human rights groups in Algeria. She is a member of several international non-governmental organizations such as Euromed Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights.
Like many civil society groups in Algeria, LADDH was legally registered but faced administrative hurdles when trying to re-register under a 2012 law. This puts its members at risk of prosecution. and imprisonment for carrying out activities within an “unregistered, suspended or dissolved” association.