**This is the first of a two-part series covering the Kabyle-Algerian conflict. The second part will deal with specific allegations of genocide by the Kabyle government in exile against the Algerian state and the petitions it has filed with two tribunals.
While wildfires occur almost every year in Algeria in the northeast region of Tizi Ouzou in the Kabylie region, last August they ravaged the once verdant region, destroying hundreds of thousands of hectares, incinerating thousands of homes and killing at least 90 people. . The disaster has provoked cross accusations and allegations from the recently installed Algerian government – which has little popular support – and the exiled government of Kabylia – which represents the Amazigh (Berber) population known as Kabyles.
The current situation – with little or no media coverage – is the culmination of events dating back decades, to Algeria’s independence from France in the 1960s and the emergence of the Kabyle independence movement.
Independence of Kabylie and Hirak movements
President Abdelmajid Tebboune is the successor to the corrupt 20-year reign of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who died on September 17, 2021 at the age of 84. Bouteflika had been in poor health since 2013 and his term ended in disgrace. in 2019. His long-awaited retirement was precipitated by massive popular protests by the pro-democracy Hirak movement that year.
Hailing from the Kabylie region, the Hirak sought to overhaul the entire system of Algerian government, in place since the North African country’s independence from France in 1962. Although often compared in the Arab Spring that started with Tunisia in 2011, the Algerian Hirak “spring” did not turn into summer and Tebboune took office on December 19, 2019. He won with 58% of the vote in an election with less than 40% voter turnout.
Almost three months later, in March 2020, Tebboune banned all “marches and gatherings, whatever their motives”, ostensibly to protect the population from the Covid-19 pandemic. But many saw it as a pretext that was used to restrict all freedom of expression, assembly and opposition to the regime.
In March 2020, Tebboune banned all “marches and gatherings, whatever their motives”.
Nevertheless, protests by the Hirak movement returned to the streets in February 2021, and have continued throughout the year despite hundreds of arrests, including a 14-year-old girl who was arrested in December and then sent back to judgment for “attending an unarmed meeting”. gathering.'”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has released its 2021 World Report documenting a litany of human rights violations in 2020 by the Algerian state against journalists, doctors and women.
The Kabyle independence movement (not mentioned in the HRW report) has championed the independence aspirations of the Kabyle people since the 1980s. The Kabyles constitute the largest homogeneous cultural-linguistic-ethnic Amazigh community in Algeria. They are estimated to constitute around 40% of the Algerian population, although the exact figures are disputed. Their homeland, Kabylie, is the mountainous region of northern Algeria, just 100 kilometers east of the country’s capital, Algiers, which stretches along the Mediterranean coast.
The Kabyles have perhaps been the indigenous Amazigh people of North Africa (from Morocco to Egypt) who have most spoken out in opposition to the “Arabization” of their homeland and culture. While other countries like Morocco have taken steps to recognize the rights and acknowledge the cultural renaissance of their indigenous Amazigh population, Algerian regimes have seen this as a challenge to their legitimacy. It was not until 2002 that the Kabyle language (dialect of Tamazight) was made a “national language” by the Algerian Constitution. However, it only became an “official” language, alongside Arabic, in 2016.
Algerian government cracks down with arrests and disappearances
In May 2021, the Algerian government declared The Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia (MAK) a terrorist organization and issued an international arrest warrant against the President of the Kabyle Provisional Government in exile, Ferhat Mehenni, who resides in Paris.
The Algerian government accused the Kabyle independence movement of deliberately starting the fires.
A few months later, in August 2021, while offering no evidence to support this claim, the Algerian government accused the Kabyle independence movement of deliberately starting the fires. He then launched a new wave of arrests and detentions, including 27 suspected MAK members after an attack in two northern towns.
Algerian police kidnapped, disappeared and detained activist Kamira Naït Sid, co-president of the Amazigh World Congress, an international NGO that defends the rights of the Amazigh people. Her family learned a few days later that she had been arrested on or around August 28.
On September 12, police officers from Tizi Ouzou arrested Mohamed Mouloudj, a reporter for the local independent newspaper Freedom, and raided his home, according to a statement from his employer and dispatches. Two days later, an Algiers court charged him with spreading false news, undermining national unity and belonging to a terrorist group. Since then, he has been detained, pending an investigation.[Algerian Hirak Makes Comeback Despite Government Maneuvers]
The MAK against the “propaganda machine” of Algiers
In response to the Algerian government’s allegations, Mehenni called two press conferences, on August 31 and September 24, 2021 in Paris. At first, he claimed that the Algerian government was attempting genocide by burning large swaths of its people’s homeland, Kabylia. He also condemned the Algerian government for setting the fires in an attempt to stifle the independence movement.
He recited a long litany of accusations, including:
“I accuse Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune of threatening my life.
I accuse the Algerian regime of torture and crimes against humanity.
I accuse the government and the army of burning Kabylia and refusing to put out the fire and block international aid.
“I accuse the Algerian regime of torture and crimes against humanity.”
He accused “Algeria of lying about all these things”, and the government’s strategy to “demonize the Kabyle people” and “influence international public opinion to think that the MAK was behind the fires”.
Mehenni also condemned the brutal lynching and burning of the body of Djamel Ben Ismail, 37, a young activist who had traveled to the Kabylia region to help put out the fires. The savage murder happened in the presence of the police who did almost nothing to stop the assault. Mehenni said the assassination was filmed on cellphones and shared on social media and was so gruesome that it “can never be invisible”.
“I feel moved in my flesh and in my soul by the Algerian propaganda machine,” he concluded. Regarding his arrest warrant, Mehenni said, “I hope France will refuse to extradite an innocent person.”
Arrest of Kamira Naït Sid, co-president of the World Amazigh Congress
Asked by Inside Arabia during the press conference on what had happened to Kamira Naït Sid and on the veracity of the reports that she had been tortured, Mehenni declared that she had been kidnapped “without witnesses and without any legal procedure”. He said it’s been ‘almost a week, and we still don’t have an account of the charges against the woman who is the president of an NGO… At the moment there is complete opacity about her whereabouts. and on the PDA charges”. He added that “the lawyers will have to meet her to find out if she was tortured”.
Human rights organization Front Line Defenders (FLD) later confirmed that Naït Sid was abducted by Algerian security forces from her home in Draa-Ben-Khedda, near Tizi Ouzou. She had been reported missing by her family for eight days before security services finally confirmed she was in custody in Algiers.
Naït Sid had been abducted by Algerian security forces from her home in Draa-Ben-Khedda.
Naït Sid was brought before an investigating judge at the Sidi M’hamed court in Algiers on September 1 on eight counts, including “undermining national unity and state security” and “belonging to a terrorist organization”. She faces ten years to life in prison and/or the death penalty.
Her sister, women’s rights defender Zina Naït Sid, was also arrested by security forces without a warrant on August 29, 2021 but was released the next day without being charged.
FLD published on its website that Naït Sid is “targeted for her legitimate and peaceful work in defense of human rights”.
The Association of Mountain Populations of the World (APMM) based in Paris [Association of World Mountain Populations] released a statement on November 27, saying the terrorism charge against Naït Sid is “totally far-fetched and not based on any credible factual basis.” He claimed she was being arbitrarily detained “in violation of international standards” and strongly denounced her “wrongful incarceration”.
The accusation of terrorism against Naït Sid is “completely far-fetched and not based on any credible factual element”.
Lounès Belkacem, the secretary general of the CMA, declared Inside Arabia that in terrorism cases, Algerian law provides for “a four-month pre-trial detention, renewable five times, but it is up to the judge to decide whether or not to extend the pre-trial detention”. He added that for the purposes of the UN and the African Commission on Human Rights, Nait Sid’s status is that of “prisoner in arbitrary detention”.
Inside Arabia reached one of her lawyers, Maître Allik, who confirmed that she had been in pre-trial detention for more than four months, without having been heard by the investigating judge until now. The main charge against her, he said, is “belonging to a terrorist organization”, although she “does not share the ideas of the MAK”.
He added that Nait Sid’s imprisonment is a violation of human rights because of “political conditions in Algeria”, in complete disregard of his affiliation with a non-governmental organization.
Allik, who is in Algiers, did not confirm reports of torture. However, according to Aksel Meziane, spokesperson for the government in exile, “torture has become a common practice in Algerian police stations, barracks and prisons”.
The MAK seized the International Criminal Court
During MAK’s second press conference held on September 24, 2021, the group announced that it had filed a human rights complaint before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague against the Algerian government, alleging the ” genocide” of the Kabyle people.