Tunisia: authorities must tell the truth about the kidnapping of an Algerian activist


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Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian convert and refugee recognized by the UNHCR, was reportedly kidnapped in Tunis on August 25

Activist reappeared in court in Algeria where he faces undisclosed charges

“The Tunisian government shares responsibility for his fate and should confess its role in his kidnapping and return” – Amna Guellali

Tunisian authorities must conduct a prompt and thorough investigation into the circumstances of the forced return to Algeria of Slimane Bouhafs, an Algerian activist with UN refugee status in Tunisia who was allegedly kidnapped in Tunis last week, Amnesty International said.

Under international human rights law, Tunisia must protect refugees and must not expel or return them to a country where they face persecution. Amnesty calls on the Algerian authorities to release Bouhafs and allow him to leave Algeria.

A family member of Bouhafs – who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals – told Amnesty that their relative was abducted in the Hay Tahrir neighborhood of Tunis at 1 p.m. on August 25. Neighbors saw three men in civilian clothes with a black car parked outside his house.

The family member said:

“The driver of the vehicle stayed inside while three others went to his apartment and forced him out. One of them was holding a suitcase that apparently contained his things, and then they left. The neighbors immediately went to the police and testified. “

For four days, the family did not know where Bouhafs was and feared that he had been the victim of enforced disappearance by the Algerian or Tunisian authorities, or by non-state armed groups. On August 29, the family learned through informal contacts that he was in police custody in an Algiers police station. On September 1, he appeared before the investigating judge of the Sidi M’hamed court in Algiers and was remanded in custody on six charges, which were not disclosed. Neither Tunisian nor Algerian authorities have made a statement about Bouhafs, nor have they specified whether he had been deported or extradited to Algeria following a request from the Algerian government.

In 2016, Bouhafs, an Algerian convert to Christianity, was sentenced by an Algerian court at three years for “insulting the Prophet” and “denigration of the faith and precepts of Islam” in connection with publications on Facebook. He was denied access to a lawyer throughout his initial trial and was only able to have access to a lawyer during his appeal trial. Bouhafs spent almost two years in prison and was released in 2018 after a presidential pardon. He then traveled to Tunisia and was recognized as a refugee by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2020.

In an official response to his kidnapping, UNHCR said it was “gravely concerned by reports of the forcible return to his country of origin of a refugee recognized by UNHCR in Tunisia”. His family believe that Bouhafs is at serious risk of ill-treatment in Algerian prisons where he has already been subjected to ill-treatment.

Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said:

“After facing two years of unjust imprisonment in Algeria, Slimane Bouhafs traveled to Tunisia to seek refuge, but it seems he was not far enough from the reach of the Algerian government.

“The Tunisian government shares responsibility for his fate and should reveal its role in his kidnapping and return.

“His expulsion amounts to ‘refoulement’ and sets an extremely worrying precedent for Tunisia. Under international law, no one should be returned to a country where they might be at serious risk of persecution or human rights violations.

“The Algerian authorities should release Slimane Bouhafs immediately and ensure that he is not subjected to any ill-treatment in prison. Under no circumstances should a recognized refugee be returned to the place from which he fled.

Repression under the guise of counter-terrorism

Although the charges against him remain unknown at this time, the Algerian media cited unnamed officials confirming that Bouhafs is under investigation for his alleged membership of the Kabylia Self-Determination Movement, which Algerian authorities recently called a terrorist group.

Since April of this year, the Algerian authorities have increasingly resorted to overbroad accusations of “terrorism” or “conspiracy against the state” to prosecute human rights defenders and Hirak activists. On May 18, the High Council for National Security, an advisory body advising the president on security matters, announced that the opposition political organization Rachad and the Movement for the Self-Determination of Kabylia had been designated “terrorist entities.” “. In June, Algeria’s penal code was amended to broaden the definition of terrorism to include “attempting to gain power or change the system of governance by unconstitutional means”. On August 18, the High Council for National Security also called for the arrest of all members of the two movements – whom the authorities accuse of involvement in the devastating The fires in Kabylia – as part of their “radical eradication”.

Serious violation of international refugee law

Tunisia’s potential knowledge or cooperation in the forcible transfer of Bouhafs to Algeria, despite his refugee status, would constitute a serious violation of the principle of “non-refoulement” and of international refugee law. The Convention against Torture, to which Tunisia is a party, explicitly prohibits the extradition of individuals to countries where there are substantial grounds for suggesting that they are in danger of being tortured.

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About Wesley V. Finley

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