Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2004 - Algeria

Harassment of families of the disappeared and their defenders

Harassment of Mr. Mohamed Smaïn30

In October 2003, the FIDH and the French League for Human Rights (Ligue française des droits de l'Homme – LDH), backed by the Relizane section of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (Ligue algérienne de défense des droits de l'Homme – LADDH) and the Association of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria (Collectif des familles de disparue(e)s en Algérie), filed a complaint for torture, acts of barbaric crime and crime against humanity with the public Prosecutor of the High Court (Tribunal de grande instance) in Nîmes (France).

On 20 March 2004, Mr. Mohamed Smaïn, president of the LADDH in Relizane, testified with the criminal investigation police department in Montpellier (France) and took civil action as a representative of the LADDH.

On 29 March 2004, Messrs. Abdelkader and Houcine Mohamed, former members of the Relizane militia now living in France and key suspects in the case, were both indicted and put on probation.

Following their indictment, Mr. Smaïn was subjected to reprisals and harassment by the Algerian authorities. On 10 April 2004, he was arrested with two journalists investigating enforced disappearances perpetrated by the Relizane national police force (gendarmerie), and his car registration papers were confiscated. After being held in custody for 20 hours, Mr. Smaïn was informed that legal proceedings had been taken against him for "insulting State authorities". He was released on 11 April after the Prosecutor dropped these charges. His car registration papers were not returned until 14 May 2004.

Mr. Fethi Azzi, who had given evidence against the Mohamed brothers along with Mr. Smaïn in March 2004, was also subjected to pressures upon his return in Algeria. On 5 April 2004, as he was supposed to resume his work at the sub-prefecture, he was immediately dismissed without an explanation. Moreover, he subsequently received threats on several occasions in Jdiouia, Relizane district, where he lives.

On 16 May 2004, Mr. Smaïn was called in by the criminal investigation department of the Relizane police station, where he was questioned under charges of "defamation" and "reporting fictitious crimes", on the basis of a complaint filed in May 2004 by Mr. Abed Mohamed, the executive delegate of the commune (délégué exécutif communal)31 of Jdiouia and father of Messrs. Abdelkader and Houcine Mohamed.

On that same day, the public Prosecutor in Relizane dropped the charges and considered the matter closed.

Since February 2001, Mr. Smaïn is also prosecuted with "defamation, calumny and reporting fictitious crimes" following a complaint filed by Mohamed Ferghane, former head of the Relizane militia, and another eight militiamen, after Mr. Smaïn notified the Algerian press of the exhumation of a mass grave by the gendarmerie. On 24 February 2002, Mr. Smaïn was sentenced in appeal to one year imprisonment and a 5,000 dinars (54 euros) fine, and ordered to pay 30,000 dinars (320 euros) in damages to each of the plaintiffs. He challenged this decision with the Supreme Court of Appeals (Cour de cassation). As of end 2004, the proceedings were still pending.

Arbitrary arrests and intimidation of the families of the disappeared – Constantine32

On 20 September 2004, police forces violently disrupted a peaceful meeting held in front of the interim office of the ad hoc Committee of the National Consultative Commission for the Protection and the Promotion of Human Rights (Commission nationale consultative pour la protection et la promotion des droits de l'Homme – CNCPPDH) in Constantine.

A number of people were beaten up, including Mrs. Farida Ouaghlissi, the wife of a disappeared. Moreover, members of the mobile brigade of the criminal investigation police force (Brigade Mobile de la Police Judiciaire – BMPJ) violently arrested Mr. Hmamlia, a bystander who tried to provide assistance to those mishandled by the police, and Mrs. Louisa Naïma Saker, secretary general of the Constantine Association for the Families of the Disappeared (Association des familles de disparus de Constantine – AFDC). Mrs. Saker was held in custody at the police station in the Palma district of Constantine for several hours, and was subjected to intimidation from intelligence officers who, inter alia, brandished a knife and a tear-bomb in front of her, and threatened to charge her with "breach of the peace". Her family and her lawyer, Mr. Sofiane Chouiter, were denied the right to visit her while in detention.

Mrs. Saker and Mr. Hmamlia were released without charges after being held for several hours.

Arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment of members of the Collective of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria – Algiers33

Families of disappeared persons, together with the Collective of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria (Collectif des familles de disparus en Algérie) and SOS Disappeared (SOS-Disparus) and organised a peaceful demonstration due to be held on 5 October 2004 in front of the presidential palace in Algiers, in protest against the proposal by the CNCPPDH to close the cases by paying compensation to the families.

On the morning of 5 October, police arrested 18 members of families of disappeared from Relizane, accompanied by Mr. Mohamed Smaïn,34 as they were about to enter Algiers to take part in the demonstration. They were all taken to the Said Hamdine police station and released in the early evening that day, after being threatened by police officers who notably declared: "Don't do it again or you'll see what happens if you do...".

Several women, relatives of disappeared persons from Oran, were also stopped right upon their arrival in Algiers. They were subsequently taken to the railway station and forced by the police to board trains back to Oran.

Moreover, many other women were prevented from reaching the assembly point as the whole area had been cordoned off by the police forces. Mrs. Sâadia Belmokhtar, the 74-years-old mother of a disappeared, was violently beaten up before being taken to the police station in an alarming physical condition.

Demonstrators who could manage to reach the venue were forcibly dispersed as they began marching towards the United Nations office. Several women were beaten up by policemen, such as Mrs. Lila Ighil, head of the Families of the disappeared Committee in Tipaza. Over a hundred people were arrested and detained in several police stations in Algiers, including Mrs. Djedjigha Cherguit and Mrs. Fatma Zohra Boucherf, vice-presidents of "SOS-Disparus".

All these persons were released without charges in the night of 5 to 6 October 2004.

Legal proceedings and harassment against LADDH members

Judicial harassment of Mr. Ghoul Hafnaoui35

On 15 February 2003, Mr. Ghoul Hafnaoui, a journalist and chairman of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (Ligue algérienne de défense des droits de l'Homme – LADDH) in Djelfa, went to the Prefecture in Djelfa together with other press correspondents, in order to meet with the Wali (Prefect). Security officers then prevented them from entering the building. Although no acts of violence were reported during this incident, the security officers filed a complaint against Mr. Hafnaoui and one of his colleagues for "insulting and attacking national security officers".

Following the publication in the El Fadjr newspaper, on 1 April 2004, of a LADDH press release pointing out the many fraudulent practices during the presidential campaign,36 the Wali and his supporters lodged a complaint for "defamation" against Mr. Hafnaoui.

On 15 May 2004, Mr. Hafnaoui was called in to the Djelfa police station upon his return from Algiers, where he had attended a meeting of the South Movement for Justice (Mouvement du Sud pour la justice – MSJ), an unregistered organisation for which he is the spokesperson, and that advocates for a greater equality between Algerian regions as well as the rehabilitation of the South of the country. Mr. Hafnaoui was questioned about his activities within both the LADDH and the MSJ. The police officers explicitly threatened him and his family with death if he were to "persist" in his operations.

In an interview published in the national daily Le Soir d'Algérie on 17 May 2004, Mr. Hafnaoui sharply criticised the situation of human rights in Algeria, the pressure exerted on journalists as well as the poor hygiene conditions in the Djelfa public hospital. Straight after this interview, the Wali and the director of the Public Health department in Djelfa lodged two complaints for "defamation" and "insulting State authorities".

On 23 May 2004, Mr. Hafnaoui published a critical article in the Djazaïr News paper, assessing the poor management of public funds by the Wali in Djelfa. Short after, the Wali and his supporters – including the principal private secretary, the chief of protocol, executive directors and mayors – filed fourteen complaints for "defamation" against him.

On 24 May 2004, Mr. Hafnaoui was arrested by police officers in plain clothes and detained on remand in the Djelfa prison. He was charged with violating Articles 123 and 124 of the Code of Criminal Procedure which, however, provides for suspects to be held on remand only in cases of in flagrante delicto, lack of fixed permanent address, or when the suspect's life may be endangered and/or may pose a threat to witnesses or other evidence.

On 26 May 2004, Mr. Hafnaoui was convicted by the Djelfa court of first instance (tribunal de première instance) and sentenced to a six-month jail term as a result of the complaint filed in the El Fadjr case.

On 9 June 2004, the court of first instance convicted him in the Soir d'Algérie affair and condemned him for "insult and defamation" to two months imprisonment and a 10,000 dinars (106 euros) fine, as well as damages to pay out to both the Wali and the director of the Public Health department in Djelfa amounting 300,000 dinars (3,199 euros) each. On 11 July 2004, the Djelfa court of appeal upheld this ruling and increased the prison sentence by one month.

On 23 June 2004, the Djelfa court of first instance acquitted Mr. Hafnaoui of the charges brought by the Prefecture security officers. On that same day, however, he was sentenced to two months imprisonment with a 50,000 dinars (533 euros) fine for the charges related to the Djazaïr News case. In addition, he was ordered to pay 300,000 dinars in damages to the Djelfa Prefecture, and a further 100,000 dinars (1,066 euros) to each of the thirteen other plaintiffs. On 8 August 2004, the Djelfa court of appeal upheld this verdict and sentenced him to an additional month in prison.

On 24 June 2004, Mr. Hafnaoui sent a letter to his daughter commenting on his legal situation and the conditions of his detention. The document was published in the daily newspaper Essabah El Djadid on 30 June. On 2 August 2004, the Djelfa court of first instance gave Mr. Hafnaoui a two-month jail term with a 2,000 dinars (21 euros) fine for "illegally removing a document from prison". The trial was conducted without his lawyers in attendance. The verdict was upheld in appeal on 29 August 2004.

On 12 July 2004, the Observatory submitted Mr. Hafnaoui's case to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

On 26 September 2004, the Djelfa court reduced in appeal the sentence for the El Fadjr case from six to three months.

Mr. Hafnaoui was set free on 25 November 2004 after the criminal chamber of the Ouragna court of appeal approved his request of parole. He was apparently released thanks to substantial mobilisation, both nationally and internationally. In all, Mr. Hafnaoui was sentenced to 11 months imprisonment – and served 6 of them – and an amount of 2,262,000 dinars (24,330 euros) fines and damages.

Mr. Hafnaoui referred his four convictions to the Supreme Court of Appeals. As at end of 2004, the proceedings were still pending.

Arbitrary arrest and detention of Messrs. Tahar Larbi,37 Slimane Tahri and Zoubir Bessaci

Between 1 and 4 June 2004, Messrs. Tahar Larbi and Slimane Tahri, respectively president and member of the LADDH section in Labiodh Sidi Cheik (El-Bayadh region), travelled to Ouargla, 800 km south of Algiers, to meet Mr. Zoubir Bessaci, an MSJ member likely to open a LADDH section in Ouargla. During the visit, Messrs. Larbi, Tahri and Bessaci also attended a meeting with MSJ members held at the home of Mr. Termoune, an MSJ member, in order to organise a joint initiative calling for the release of Mr. Ghoul Hafnaoui.38

On 4 June 2004, as they were about to leave Ouargla, Messrs. Larbi and Tahri were arrested by the security services and taken to the Ouargla prison. On the same day, the police also took Mr. Bessaci into custody, along with six other MSJ members.

These nine persons were detained on remand and accused of "operating within an unregistered association" and "distributing leaflets posing a possible threat to the national interests". This second charge was related to a petition launched on 15 March 2004 on the initiative of the Ouargla district committees, calling on the Sonelgaz company to reduce gas and electricity rates. However, Messrs. Larbi and Tahri allegedly did not sign this document.

The same charges were brought against Mr. Ghoul Hafnaoui, who was at that time detained in Djelfa.

These ten people were also at first accused with "criminal conspiracy", a charge that was dropped in mid-July 2004 after Messrs. Larbi, Tahri and Bessaci went on a hunger strike from 26 June to 10 July 2004.

On 10 July 2004, Messrs. Larbi and Tahri were separated from the other detainees and transferred to the Touggourt prison, 100 kilometres from Ouargla.

On 25 October 2004, the Ouargla court sentenced Messrs. Larbi and Termoune to eight months imprisonment. The other accused, including Mr. Tahri, were condemned to six months jail terms, whereas Mr. Ghoul Hafnaoui, who was detained in the Djelfa prison at that time, was acquitted. However, his brother, Mr. Ahmed Hafnaoui, another MSJ member who had been summoned to appear on the day of the hearing, was charged, convicted and given a six months prison sentence. The court's decision was upheld in appeal on 7 December 2004.

On 7 December 2004, the persons handed-down six months of prison were released after serving their sentence, except for Mr. Ahmed Hafnaoui, who had only be indicted on the occasion of the hearing and placed in detention soon after the verdict. He was expected to be released in late March 2005, whilst Mr. Larbi should be set free on 5 February 2005.

On 5 October 2003, Mr. Larbi and five other members of his family had been placed in custody at Labiodh Sidi Cheikh prison, after participating in a peaceful demonstration in support of the Independent National Union of Civil Servants (Syndicat national autonome des personnels de l'administration publique – SNAPAP) in September 2003. On 3 November 2003, Mr. Larbi had been beaten up by the prison director and his guards. On 9 November 2003, the LADDH filed a complaint for ill-treatment with the public Prosecutor of the Saida court, where the case remains pending. On 24 November 2003, Mr. Tahar had received a three months' suspended prison sentence by the El-Bayadh court, along with the five other participants. They were all released after the trial and appealed against the verdict. In late December 2004, the case was still pending.

Harassment and arbitrary arrests and detentions of LADDH members in Ghardaia

On 11 October 2004, shopkeepers in the city of Ghardaia, 630 kilo-metres south of Algiers, went on strike after an inspection by customs, tax and price control authorities.

On 13 October, as demonstrators were peacefully gathering to demand the Wali to intervene, police forces took violent action, stirring up the anger of the population and triggering riots in the city. Given the seriousness of the situation, the Ghardaia section of the LADDH proposed to act as a mediator and set up an emergency response unit.

On 14 October 2004, the Wali referred to the Prosecutor of the Ghardaia court to initiate legal proceedings on charges of "unlawful gathering and incitement to unlawful gathering", "obstruction of public thoroughfare" and "destruction of public property". These charges were brought against some thirty persons including the five members of the LADDH section. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Messrs. Mohamed Djelmani, Mohamed Oubaya, Ahmed Djeädi, Hamou Mesbah and Kamel Fekhar, the latter also being a local elected representative of the Socialist Forces Front (Front des forces socialistes – FFS, an opposition party).

Mr. Fekhar has been detained ever since he was arrested on 31 October 2004, while Messrs. Djelmani, Oubaya, Djeadi and Mesbah were still covered by the arrest warrant issued on 14 October 2004.

Obstacles to the holding of a conference

The Tizi Ouzou section of the LADDH organised a conference, due to be moderated by Mr. Ali Yahia Abdenour, a lawyer and president of the LADDH, as part of the celebration of the International Human Rights Day on 10 December 2004. The conference was to be held at the Mouloud Mammeri cultural centre; the date was brought forward to 8 December as the auditorium was not available on the date requested. As a result, the LADDH section was unable to meet the 3-days allotted time for requesting prior authorisation of the authorities and the conference had to be cancelled.

On 27 December 2004, the LADDH section submitted another request for authorisation with the General Affairs and Regulation department of the Prefecture to hold the conference on 6 January 2005.

However, the Prefecture officials refused to acknowledge this request and gave verbal notice that the authorisation would not be granted on the alleged grounds that the LADDH did not comply with the Law on Associations. The LADDH, which is in fact legally recognised, addressed the Wali requesting a written explanation of this refusal. By late December 2004, the LADDH section had not received any response from the Wali or his services.

Legal proceedings against Mr. Abderrahmane Khelil39

On 20 May 2002, Mr. Abderrahmane Khelil, head of the "SOS-Disappeared" Committee (Comité SOS-Disparus) and LADDH member, was arrested following a visit he made to the University of Bouzaréah to investigate into the arrests of students during protest movements on 18 May 2002. He was detained in the El-Harrache prison in extremely precarious conditions, and received a six months' suspended prison sentence for "encouraging unarmed assembly" on 26 May 2002. Mr. Khelil appealed against this decision.

As of end 2004, the proceedings were still pending.

Harassment of SNAPAP members40

In 2004, members of the Independent National Union of Civil Servants (Syndicat national autonome des personnels de l'administration publique – SNAPAP) continued to face regular pressure on the part of the authorities.

On 20 January 2004, Mr. Salim Mechiri, SNAPAP national secretary and LADDH vice-president, together with Messrs. Fodhil Agha and Djilali Bensafi, members of the union section office of the Oran teaching hospital, were arrested following the release of statements announcing a general strike in the healthcare sector. The three men were released after several hours in custody.

Moreover, seven board members of the SNAPAP office in Oran were arrested and suspended from their functions on the order of the Wali of Oran in March 2002, following a hunger strike they started in protest against the closure of the SNAPAP office in Oran.41 In October 2002, they were given a three-month suspended prison sentence and 5,000 dinars fine. In January 2003, this verdict had been commuted to a 5,000 dinars (54 euros) fine but the administration maintained their suspension. As at the end of 2004, these had still not been reinstated in their functions, and the appeal they submitted to the Supreme Court in 2003 remained pending. In addition, these seven persons were subjected to repeated pressure from the authorities in the course of 2004: they were notably asserted that they would be reinstated if they agreed to express public criticism of SNAPAP activities and its secretary general, Mr. Rachid Malaoui.

Such methods were part of recurring smear campaigns, widely broadcast in pro-governmental media, targeting Mr. Malaoui and other SNAPAP members, who were regularly accused of spying in the pay of foreign interests and of embezzling funds.

In November 2004, the Algiers court of first instance condemned Mr. Malaoui to a suspended prison sentence of one year with a 5,000 dinars fine for "defamation", following a complaint filed by the secretary general of the Algerian General Workers' Union (Union générale des travailleurs algériens – UGTA, pro-governmental union) for facts dating back to 2001. At that time, Mr. Malaoui publicly criticised the UGTA's takeover of the union scene and denounced the repeated attacks on independent trade unions. Mr. Malaoui, who was not in court when the verdict was handed down, appealed this decision. By late 2004, no date had been set for the hearing.

Lastly, in December 2003 and May 2004, former SNAPAP members, backed by the Ministry of Labour, held a congress to establish another union, wearing the same name. In June 2004, the "genuine" SNAPAP filed a complaint with the Algiers court of first instance for "usurpation". A first hearing was scheduled for 9 February 2005. Although de facto recognised by the Ministry of Labour, the "new" SNAPAP was not legally registered and thus submitted the case to the court in El-Harrach in July 2004 to be granted legal status. In October 2004, the court ruled that the case did not come under its jurisdiction and made an urgent application for it to be transferred to another jurisdiction. By late 2004, no other jurisdiction had received a submission from the "new" SNAPAP and the proceedings had been left pending.

[Refworld note: This report as posted on the FIDH website (www.fidh.org) was in pdf format with country chapters run together by region. Footnote numbers have been retained here, so do not necessarily begin at 1.]

30. See Annual Report 2003 and Urgent Appeals DZA 001/0404/OBS 024 and 024.1.

31. A non-elected administrative authority.

32. See Annual Report 2003 and Urgent Appeals DZA 001/0301/OBS 018.3 and 018.4.

33. See Annual Report 2003 and Urgent Appeals DZA 001/0301/OBS 018.5 and 018.6.

34. See above.

35. See Urgent Appeals DZA 002/0504/OBS 039, 039.1, 039.2 and Press Release, 2 December 2004.

36. The presidential election was held on 8 April 2004.

37. See Annual Report 2003.

38. See above.

39. See Annual Report 2003.

40. Idem.

41. The SNAPAP office in Oran was closed down on the order of the authorities in 2002. In early 2004, the premises were taken over for use by the police.


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