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Algeria: Detainees must be released and civic space opened

In a joint statement, 18 Algerian, regional and international organisations called for the immediate release of all persons unjustly imprisoned for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion, association and peaceful assembly in Algeria.

We, the signing associations and organisations, call on the Algerian authorities to release unjustly imprisoned detainees for expressing their opinions or peacefully exercising their freedoms, and to open up civic space to civil society actors in order to ensure the unhindered exercise of their missions towards the rule of law.

The year 2024 marks the scheduling of early presidential elections in September. Five years after the emergence of the Hirak, a peaceful movement demanding the rule of law and democracy, the country has experienced a severe curtailment of fundamental rights and freedoms and the adoption of a constitutional revision (2020) and repressive laws that have consolidated authoritarianism, in contradiction with Algeria’s international human rights commitments. 

A wall of silence hangs over civil society. Since 2019, activists, journalists and human rights defenders have been prosecuted and sentenced, often to harsh sentences, for exercising their fundamental rights, notably on the basis of unfounded accusations of belonging to terrorist entities. Authorities have also increased arbitrary legal actions against civil society organisations, opposition political parties, trade unions, and independent media outlets.

The Algerian authorities dissolved two human rights organisations with over thirty years’ existence: the Rassemblement actions jeunesse (RAJ) in October 2021, confirmed by the Conseil d’État’s decision of February 2023, and the Ligue algérienne pour la défense des droits de l’homme (LADDH) in June 2022.

The offices of the media Radio M and Maghreb Émergent, among the last advocates of independent journalism, were sealed off in December 2022 before an Algerian court ordered their dissolution in April 2023.

In March 2024, the organisation of two conferences by SOS Disparus – CFDA, an association defending the rights of the disappeared, was arbitrarily prevented. Two registered political parties, the Parti socialiste des travailleurs (PST) and the Mouvement démocratique et social (MDS), were suspended indefinitely, in January 2022 and February 2023 respectively. 

Furthermore, amending the Penal Code, in the midst of a pandemic and without public debate, has led to the introduction of repressive provisions that have been used to convict several peaceful citizens. This was followed by the broadening of the criminal charge of ‘terrorism’ (article 87 bis), regularly invoked against peaceful voices, and the adoption of amendments to the Penal Code in April 2024.

More than 200 people are currently detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression and other fundamental rights. These include figures of the Hirak such as Brahim Laâlami and Mohamed Tadjadit, who has served almost 60 months of detention since 2019; Mohad Gasmi, who has been in jail since June 2020; and journalist Ihsane El-Kadi, sentenced to seven years imprisonment, two of which are suspended.

In addition to these cases, hundreds of anonymous or lesser-known people are arbitrarily imprisoned. Many of them have been held in pre-trial detention for months. These detainees join the ranks of old prisoners of which Mohamed Baba Najer is an emblematic case. 

Activists, associations, human rights organisations and media have launched a nationwide campaign called أطلڤوهم# #Serḥet-asen (#ReleaseThem) during the month of Ramadan to highlight their arbitrary detention and demand their immediate release. The campaign recalls that the exercise of fundamental freedoms is a protected right,  not a crime.

In 2024, Algeria’s presidential elections will be held ahead of schedule on 7 September and Algeria sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council. Moreover, the Algerian authorities accepted visits from the Special Rapporteurs on the right to peaceful assembly and of association (Clément Nyaletsossi Voule) and on the situation of human rights defenders (Mary Lawlor) in 2023. These developments are visible signs of openness and commitment.

This context calls for opening up spaces of freedom for civil society and applying substantial measures to break the climate of terror that prevails against critical voices and human rights defenders. Rather than treating them as a threat, the Algerian authorities should make urgent and concrete commitments to guarantee their integrity and protect the space required for them to play their constructive societal role.

The two UN Special Rapporteurs noted significant shortcomings regarding respect for fundamental rights and freedoms in their preliminary observations following their missions in Algeria. Ms Lawlor stated that ‘the judicial relentlessness continues with multiple criminal prosecutions against human rights defenders’. Mr Voule asserted that ‘the government must relax the strict restrictions imposed on gatherings and associations […] and tackle the climate of fear caused by a series of criminal charges against individuals, associations, trade unions and political parties under excessively restrictive laws’.

We, signatories of this appeal, call for the implementation of the following measures:

  • Immediate release and full rehabilitation of all persons unjustly imprisoned for exercising their rights to freedom of opinion, association and peaceful assembly
  • Lift security, legal and administrative constraints that prevent the practical exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms of peaceful citizens and civil society players
  • Repeal repressive laws and articles of the Penal Code instrumentalised for repressive purposes and adopt laws that reinforce public freedoms and genuinely comply with the international conventions ratified by Algeria;
  • Open up areas of freedom for civil society players and guarantee the unhindered exercise of their constructive missions towards the rule of law.

 

SIGNATORIES:

Algerian organisations:

  • IBTYKAR
  • Comité de sauvegarde de la Ligue algérienne pour la défense des droits de l’homme dissoute (CS-LADDH)
  • Libertés Algérie
  • PADA (Pour une alternative démocratique en Algérie)
  • SHOAA for Human Rights
  • ACDA (Agir pour le changement et la démocratie en Algérie)
  • Collectif des familles de disparus en Algérie (CFDA)
  • Comité de soutien pour les droits humains en Algérie – Montréal
  • Collectif pour une Alternative Démocratique et Sociale en Algérie (CADSA-Marseille) 

International and regional organisations:

  • MENA Rights Group
  • Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • Avocats Sans Frontières in Tunisia (ASF)
  • AfricanDefenders (Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network
  • EuroMed Rights
  • FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
  • International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) 
  • Front Line Defenders

 

Link to the content of the campaign أطلڤوهم# #Serḥet-asen (#ReleaseThem): https://linktr.ee/freedzconscienceprisoners   
Email: [email protected]
To read the statement in Arabic and French, click here.

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