Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Algeria

Political context

On November 12, 2008, the National Popular Assembly and the National Council adopted a constitutional reform relating in particular to the abolition of the restriction of the number of presidential mandates. Such a reform, which paves the way for an unlimited number of mandates for the position of Head of State, gives rise to the concern that the principle of alternation of Government, which constitutes one of the guarantees of a democratic system, will not be respected.

Algeria has furthermore been under a state of emergency since 1992, maintaining a security climate in which human rights defenders regularly find themselves confronted with numerous measures that prevent them from carrying out their work properly.

Whilst its peers at the United Nations Human Rights Council examined Algeria under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, in 2008 the Algerian authorities continued not to cooperate with UN human rights protection mechanisms, despite being called on to do so during the UPR on several occasions. Requests for invitations made by several of the United Nations Special Procedures were still not given consideration. Similarly, the Algerian authorities are still opposed to the visit of the ACPHR Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa. Furthermore, the Algerian Government refused the inclusion in the final report of one of the recommendations made in the course of the UPR, encouraging it not to take criminal proceedings against those who "criticise the Government".

A restrictive legislative framework for human rights activities

Obstacles to freedom of association

The right of association was still not guaranteed in Algeria. Indeed, Article 7 of Law No. 90-31 on Associations provides for a system of declaration for the creation of an association. However, the practice established by the authorities makes approval an obligation that in effect deprives many associations of the legal recognition they need to do their job. Several human rights associations are still not able to file their registration application. This was notably the case for the associations SOS-Disappeared (SOS-Disparu[e]s) and Citizen Generations (Générations citoyennes), which, as at the end of 2008, had still not obtained legal recognition.

Adoption of a law making it possible to sanction defenders of migrants' rights

On June 25, 2008, the Algerian authorities adopted a law under which a new category of human rights defenders, those who give support to migrants, incurs punishment. As a matter of fact, Law No.88-11 on "the Entry, Stay and Movement of Foreigners" provides for prison sentences of two to five years for any person who, "directly or indirectly facilitates or attempts to facilitate the entry, the movement, the stay or the illegal exit of a stranger" (Article 46). These sentences may be increased to up to 10 years in prison for persons who provide means of transport or telecommunication to illegal migrants.

Legislative obstacles to freedom of assembly and repression of peaceful rallies

Public assemblies and demonstrations are governed by Law No. 91-19 of December 2, 1991, which does not require an authorisation prior to holding a public meeting, but provides for a simple declaration to be made to the "Wali" (Governor) (Articles 4 and 5). However, the 1992 Decree establishing the state of emergency requires that associations that wish to organise a public assembly or demonstration should obtain authorisation from the Wali, as the Government authority responsible for maintaining public order. Granting of this authorisation is therefore at the Government's discretion. In practice, the Algerian authorities systematically refused to authorise independent human rights associations to organise demonstrations or hold public meetings. In addition, a law dating from June 18, 2001, which is still in force today, forbids peaceful marches or any form of public demonstration in Algiers.

As a result, human rights defenders who organised public rallies despite the regulatory restrictions faced again in 2008 the reprisals of the authorities and the Algerian justice. On November 23, 2008, the authorities ordered a demonstration in front of the Ministry of Justice organised by SOS-Disappeared to be broken up. When he wanted to approach the Ministry, Mr. Hacène Ferhati, a founding member of SOS-Disappeared, was forcibly detained by a group of police who threatened him and ordered him to leave the site, referring to the banon rallies. He was then grabbed and dragged for several metres before being released. On March 26, 2008, the Constantine Court sentenced Ms. Louisa Saker, Secretary General of the Association of the Families of the Disappeared in Constantine (Association des familles de disparus de Constantine – AFDC), to a fine of 20,000 dinars (around 200 Euros) for "gathering crowds without weapons" because of her participation on September 20, 2004 in a peaceful rally in front of the temporary headquarters of the ad hoc Committee of the National Consultative Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (Commission nationale consultative pour la protection et la promotion des droits de l'Homme – CNCPPDH). The Constantine Appeal Court confirmed this decision in a ruling made on November 19, 2008. Ms. Louisa Saker plans to appeal against this ruling.

Finally, whilst assemblies that are not open to the public do not require prior Government authorisation (Article 14 of Law No. 91-19), in 2008 the Algerian authorities put pressure on organisations not to host meetings that dealt with "political" matters in Algeria. For instance, the foundation that was due to host a debate on October 5, 2008, organised by the Algerian Human Rights Defence League (Ligue algérienne pour la défense des droits de l'Homme – LADDH) at the time of the commemoration of the events of October 5, 1988,1 had to withdraw as host for "reasons beyond its control".2

Legislative obstacles to freedom of association and repression of union members

Freedom of association was still not guaranteed in Algeria. Indeed, Law No. 90-14 on Unions only permits the formation of trade unions from the same professions, branches or sectors of activity. Unions of Algerian workers such as the National Independent Union of Public Administration Personnel (Syndicat national autonome des personnels de l'administration publique – SNAPAP), or the National Union of Algerian Workers (Syndicat national des travailleurs algériens – SNATA), are consequently banned. In addition, the authorities refuse to register most autonomous unions, including those belonging to the same profession. This is especially the case for the Independent Union of Workers in Education and Training (Syndicat autonome des travailleurs de l'éducation et de la formation – SATEF), the Independent National Council of Secondary and Technical Education Professors (Conseil national autonome des professeurs de l'enseignement secondaire et technique – CNAPEST) or the Council of Secondary Schools of Algiers (Conseil des lycées d'Alger – CLA).

Union officials were also prevented from organising peaceful rallies. On April 15, 2008, members of the Independent Civil Service Inter-Union (Intersyndicale autonome de la fonction publique – IAFP) organised a rally on the "Grande Poste" square in Algiers to let the Government know about their disagreement with the wage review plan. The rally was quickly dispersed by anti-riot forces, which charged the demonstrators using their truncheons. Together with other people, Mr. Nouar Larbi, a CNAPEST member, was dragged along the street, arrested and then immediately released as a result of the pressure of his colleagues. Altogether ten people were arrested and questioned, before being released a few hours later.

Judicial and administrative harassment of human rights defenders fighting against impunity

In 2008, the ordinance voted in February 2006 on the implementation of the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation (Charte pour la paix et la reconciliation nationale) remained in force, restricting the freedoms of action and expression of human rights defenders. This ordinance indeed provides for prison sentences of three to five years and fines for any individual who, "by speech, writing, or any other act, uses or exploits the wounds of the national tragedy to harm the institutions of the Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria, to weaken the State, or to undermine the good reputation of its agents who honourably served it, or to tarnish the image of Algeria internationally". The law therefore punishes a large part of the activities of human rights defenders, especially those relating to the fight against impunity and the search for truth and justice carried out notably by the Collective of the Families of the Disappeared in Algeria (Collectif des familles de disparus en Algeria – CFDA) or the associations of families of disappeared persons and the associations of families of victims of terrorism. Although these provisions were never used, they contributed to the climate of self-censorship within civil society, especially in the media, and were a dissuasion against holding any critical debate on the conflict of the last decade.

In this context, judicial or administrative proceedings continued into 2008 against human rights defenders who combat impunity in order to intimidate them. For instance, on April 13, 2008, Mr. Abderrahmane Amine Sidhoum, a lawyer and member of the association SOS-Disappeared, was given a six months' suspended prison sentence and fined 20,000 dinars (around 200 Euros) by the Sidi M'hamed Court in Algiers, for having "discredited a court ruling" and for "insulting a constituent body of the State". He was accused of having referred to "an arbitrary ruling" against one of his clients made by the Algiers Criminal Court, although the court had not yet issued a verdict.3 On November 26, 2008, the Algiers Court of Appeal confirmed the ruling. The General Prosecutor, who had called for a one-year prison sentence, appealed against this decision. As at the end of 2008, the court had still not issued a verdict. In addition, on May 17, 2008, Ms. Cherifa Kheddar, President of "Djazairouna", an association that defends the rights of victims of terrorism, was downgraded from her position as in charge at the Blida Prefecture, where she worked for 12 years, and on August 18, 2008 she received notice of eviction from her on-site accommodation. Furthermore she continued to be subject to acts of harassment by the security services of the Blida Territorial Research and Investigation Centre (Centre territorial de recherche et d'investigation – CTRI). These acts followed a workshop forum on transitional justice and the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation, which was co-organised by "Somoud", Djazairouna, SOS-Disappeared and the CFDA in the Djazairouna office in Blida on April 10, 2008. This event brought together for the first time victims of terrorism and victims of enforced disappearances caused by the Algerian authorities.

Proceedings for "defamation" and reprisals against journalists who fight against corruption and denounce human rights violations

The year 2008 saw an escalation in the sentencing of journalists for "defamation" and "insult to an institution and constituent body". This judicial harassment has been facilitated since the adoption in 2001 of an amendment to the Criminal Code (the Dilem Amendment) making it a crime to insult and defame public institutions in the press. Several journalists were prosecuted after denouncing corruption in certain State institutions and other human rights violations. For instance, Mr. Yasser Abdelhaï, from the daily Echourouk Al-Youmi, was served a debt recovery notice by a bailiff for the payment before March 15, 2008 of four million dinars (around 40,000 Euros), the amount he had been sentenced to pay by the Jijel Court on March 3, 2008, after four trials. The journalist was prosecuted by the Jijel Wali for having criticised the management of public affairs by the Prefecture.4 Furthermore, Mr. Slim Sadki, the Al-Watan correspondent in the town of El Tarf (in the north-east), was sentenced on November 30, 2008 to a fine of 20,000 dinars (around 200 Euros) for "defamation", following a complaint filed by a senior civil servant after publishing two articles in January 2008 denouncing acts of corruption within the local Government Education Authority in the El Tarf wilaya (province).5 Finally, on October 28, 2008, Mr. Hassan Bouras, a journalist and member of LADDH, was sentenced by default by the Saida Appeal Court to two months in prison and a fine of 40,000 dinars (around 3,600 Euros) for "defamation" and "attacking a constituent body". The trial followed a complaint filed by the Wali of Al-Baydah concerning a report published on April 24, 2006 by the newspaper Al-Bilad, in which the journalist had denounced corruption within the province.6

Urgent Interventions issued by The Observatory in 20087

Names of human rights defendersViolationsIntervention ReferenceDate of Issuance
Ms. Louisa SakerJudicial harassmentUrgent Appeal DZA 001/0108/OBS 003January 10, 2008
Mr. Abderrahmane Amine SidhoumJudicial harassmentJoint Open Letter to the authoritiesApril 8, 2008
SentencingUrgent Appeal DZA 001/0506/OBS 063.7April 14, 2008
Press ReleaseNovember 24, 2008
Sentencing on appealPress ReleaseNovember 27, 2008
Mr. Nouar LarbiRepression of a union demonstrationPress ReleaseApril 22, 2008
Ms. Cherifa KheddarAbusive dismissal / HarassmentUrgent Appeal DZA 002/0508/OBS 089May 22, 2008
Urgent Appeal DZA 002/0508/OBS 089.1September 19, 2008
Mr. Hacène FerhatiObstacles to freedom of peaceful assemblyUrgent Appeal DZA 003/1108/OBS 198November 25, 2008

1 From October 4 to 12, 1988 (the date the state of siege was lifted), a general strike, which was called for October 5, 1988 to make social demands heard, turned into rioting that shook several Algerian towns. The demonstrations, during which public buildings were destroyed, were violently repressed, leading to 179 deaths according to official sources (over 400 deaths according to other sources).

2 See LADDH.

3 The Criminal Court pronounced its verdict in May 2005.

4 See LADDH.

5 The first article dealt with a teachers' strike to protest against the withholding of salaries and the second with the dismissal of six young women who were employed and then dismissed a month later on the pretext that they were over-qualified. See Al Watan articles dated March 3, October 28 and November 30, 2008.

6 See LADDH.

7 See the Compilation of cases in the CD-Rom attached to this report.


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