Algeria :Towards Individual Dictatorship
Developments in Algeria this year have served to further entrench the individual monopoly of power exercised by Algeria’s President, and forestall chances for the proper rotation of power.
The text of the Charter of Peace and National Reconciliation contained parts which actually strengthened impunity for both crimes committed by armed Islamist groups in the 1990s and those perpetrated by the army and security apparatus. Ongoing terrorist activity was used to give the security apparatus license to commit fresh abuses without fear of accountability, and to justify the existing Emergency Law that has been in place since 1992. Accordingly, arbitrary arrests and secret detentions as well as torture continued throughout 2009. Threats to freedom of expression increased, seen in repressive punishments for journalists and the confiscation and banning of printed material. Repression of the activities of human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) increased, and a new bill is currently being drafted that will impose further restrictions on civil society. In light of a policy to suppress cultural and ethnic diversity in Algeria, minorities feel greatly marginalized and social tensions are acquiring an increasingly violent nature.
Monopoly of power and a blockade against the rotation of power
In April of 2009, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was reelected for a third term in closed elections. It was obvious who the winner would be from the moment it was decided to amend Article 74 of the constitution to do away with the two-term limit for the presidency – an amendment approved by parliament in November 2008. Some opposition parties believe this has completely closed the door to the possibility of the peaceful rotation of power, and an indication that Bouteflika would remain President for life. As such, many predict Algeria will increasingly become a country of one-man rule.
Attempting to avoid further international and domestic criticisms to the constitutional amendment, which only exacerbated the problem of the rotation of power in Algeria, authorities attempted to link it to other constructive constitutional changes, one of which aims to “promote and strengthen the role of women in political participation.” A new provision, Article 31(b), states that “the state shall work to promote the political rights of women and expand their share of representation in elected councils. The organic law shall determine the manner in which this article shall be implemented.” Although this amendment was ratified a year ago, no law has yet been issued defining a practical framework to foster women’s political participation. President Bouteflika meanwhile directly benefited from the immediate application of the amendment to extend the term limits of the President which cleared the way for his reelected. Women constitute no more than 3 percent of deputies in the National People’s Assembly and 6 percent in the Council of Nation (the upper chamber of parliament). Despite, or perhaps as a result of the absence of any real competition in the elections, which was boycotted by several opposition parties and won by Bouteflika with more than 90 percent of the votes, the electoral process was still accompanied by a lack of equal opportunities for electoral campaigning. The state media were recruited to Bouteflika ’s side while opposition forces boycotting the election were smeared. The Ministry of Interior barred the opposition "Socialist Forces Front" from advocating an election boycott; police arrested and charged several members and partisans of opposition parties who had distributed flyers urging a popular boycott of the elections.
The police justified their actions by noting that public halls were reserved for participants in the elections and hence those not participating or urging others not to participate had no rightful place there.
Furthermore, on the eve of the Algerian presidential elections in April 2009, the authorities banned the French newspaper L’Express on the grounds that it had broken Algerian law and breached the nation’s sovereignty. Other French newspapers, such as Journal du Dimanche, Marianne, and Afrique Magazine , were also banned after they addressed the topic of support for Bouteflika ’s regime among senior army officers and the prominence their allies and families enjoy in Algerian political life. Moroccan journalists who had arrived in Algeria to cover the election campaign were arrested and
questioned by police for hours before being released. Some reports have noted the clear presence of army and security personnel at polling stations dressed in civilian clothes. At the same time, there seemed to be a lack of election monitoring agents at 90 percent of these polling places due to the failure of competitors to provide a sufficient number of monitoring agents. The "Rally for Culture and Democracy" party accused authorities of engaging in several abuses to increase voter turnout to more than 70 percent, including forcing police and army personnel to vote.
Algeria still suffers from violent terrorist attacks, which this year left dozens of victims in their wake. The most significant was the attack in June 2009 which targeted a police patrol in the eastern part of the country, killing 2 civilians and 18 policemen. Deaths as a result of terrorist activity and encounters with armed militias are estimated at 340 in 2008, compared to 490 in 2007 and 300 in 2006. Counterterrorism measures are used to justify serious violations of the human rights of terrorism suspects arrested and detained in Algeria. In light of the severe information blackout imposed by the authorities on measures taken to track and pursue armed groups, it is difficult to have a precise estimate of the number of such suspects arrested or killed. Often detainees are placed in secret facilities for several months, isolated from all judicial oversight, where they are tortured for several weeks.
Most disposals result from abuses by security forces using laws under the state of emergency (which has been in place since 1992) or which were related to counterterrorism measures. Arbitrary detention has been integrated into the legal framework of the country. It is under these provisions that suspects in terrorism cases are tried in military courts, where the judiciary 1 "Opposition Party Accuses Ministry of Interior of Raising Participation Rate to 70 percent,"
Al Khabar, Apr. 10, 2009, http://algeriamedia.org/modules.php?name=news&op=NEArticle&sid=344
gives no consideration to detainees who claim that their confessions were obtained under duress and without investigations. For example, an MP and several Algerian newspapers in June 2009 exposed the torture of a citizen from the Tipaza province by the area police commander. Despite the scandal, no judicial investigation was launched and no internal investigations were conducted by the police to prosecute those responsible.3
On March 17, 2009, Moussa Rahli disappeared for five weeks after his arrest. His family found out that he was detained at the military prison Blida where he still remains. In May 26, 2006, Adel Saker, was arrested by the Tamalous (Skikda) police, and his whereabouts remained unknown till April 12, 2009 when his family was finally allowed to visit him in prison. It has seen been uncovered that he was tortured during the period in which he was secretly detained. Secret detention is closely related to disappearance, torture and deprivation of visitation rights and legal aid for periods that can extend years without trial. Mohamed Rahmouni and Mohamed Boudjelti disappeared for more than 8 months since their arrest on July 18, 2007. Their families have known that they were detained in the military jail of Blida in March 2008 but they couldn’t visit them till April 2008. They are still being held in the military jail of Blida without trial. Their families have hired lawyers to represent them in court, however, under the code of military justice, the President of the military tribunal has the right to deny the lawyers appointed
by the family from attending the court session.
Rahmouni was able to meet with the lawyer appointed by his family before they appointed another lawyer by order of the President of the military tribunal. Mohamed Boudjelti, on the other hand, does not have a lawyer due to his families refusal to follow the judge’s orders. Both Malik Medjnoun and Abdelhakim Chenoui have been detained for ten years in Tizi Ouzou , since being arrested in September 1999 on charges of killing Kabyle singer Matoub Lounès. They were subjected to enforced disappearance for seven months, during which they were tortured by various means including beatings, electric shocks, and forced ingestion of trash and chemical substances. Chenoui was also sodomized with a broom handle. Although the criminal court of Tizi Ouzou
was scheduled to hear their case in May 2001, neither of the defendants has been brought before a court. Talk of a trial began again in July 2008, but it was postponed without further notice.
"Algeria: A Legacy of Impunity: A Threat to Algeria’s Future," Amnesty International, Mar.30, 2009,
"Case Against the President of the Gendarmerie Before a Military Tribunal on Charges of
Torture," Al-Khabar Newspaper, Jun. 14, 2009,
The consequences of the national reconciliation policy on the individual and collective rights of the families of the disappeared
During the presidential campaign of 2009, President Bouteflika introduced a report in April on the third anniversary that the implementation of the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation entered into force. On this occasion, the Algerian authorities officially declared that the number of documented disappeared persons increased – due to the methodology followed by the security apparatus in tracking armed militia since the 1990s – to 8023 persons. The officially recognized number by the state in 2005 was 6143 disappeared persons.5
The increase in the number of disappeared people’s raises more concerns with regard to the financial compensation owed to families of those disappeared, especially since compensation was estimated according to figures lower than the correct number of persons who disappeared during the years of military confrontations. Fair compensation to the families of disappeared persons is of particular importance since the Charter and its enforcing texts provides impunity for agents of the State who engaged in acts of enforced disappearance as well as committed other serious human rights violations during the 1990s. Article 45 of the Charter says, “[n]o lawsuit can be filed, individually or collectively, against the agents of the State for security and defence of the Republic, and all other entities, for their actions taken in favour of the protection of people.” It is to be noted that countless members of the family of disappeared persons face difficulties in proclaiming their due compensation as they are required to first get a court decision confirming the death of the disappeared person. Additionally, Article 46 poses a serious constraint on family members and associations in charge of representing the disappeared persons, as it stipulates a 5-year prison term on anyone who writes about the national conflict during the 1970s or uses it in order “to weaken the State, cause any nuisance to public figures or use it to tarnish the image of Algeria internationally.”
"Algeria: Immediately Try or Release Detainees Jailed for Nine Years Without Being
Convicted by a Court," Amnesty International, Sep. 28, 2008,
"The Outcome of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika," Djelfa News Forum, Apr. 1, 2009,
This puts a clear limitation on the role that the media or civil society can play in support of the families of disappeared. In this context it is to be noted that the families of the disappeared are almost always prevented from expressing their demands through demonstrations and sit-ins, as was the case when they were prevented from demonstrating in front of the Ministry of Justice on November 23, 2008. 6
This was repeated on April 8, 2009 in front of the “National Commission for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights” – just one day prior to the presidential election 7 – and again in early November 2009 during the annual celebrations of the Algerian revolution. 8
Freedom of expression and media
The state continues to exercise a monopoly on all visual and audio media, refusing to open the field for the private sector on the grounds that the Algerian society is not yet ready and that “national interest” calls for such a monopoly. As a result, media organs reflect the dominance of official propaganda; all political opposition voices are stifled and the activities of associations that do not adopt the authorities’ stances are boycotted. This was particularly clear during the elections, when the performance of the
public media breached all the standards of integrity and public service and became no more than a propaganda tool in service of President Bouteflika’s campaign. Authorities also used the public media to attack opposition figures calling for a boycott, describing them as traitors and infidels. 9
The laws stipulated under the Penal Code and the articles of the “Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation” continue to pose threats on journalists either through prison terms or criminal charges. Journalist Hassan Bouras received two prison terms in less than a year; the first in October 2008 when a Saïda court sentenced him to two months in prison and a fine of 40,000 Algerian dinars (AD) after being convicted of libeling and undermining a public authority. In July 2009, the court of El-Bayadh sentenced him in absentia to three months in prison in addition to a fine of AD 50,000 after an MP accused him of libel. 6
"Families of Dissappeared Persons Abused Before the Ministry of Justice," Collectif Des
Familles de Disparu(e)s en Algérie, Nov. 24, 2009,
"The Media in the 2009 Presidential Election,".Joint Report by The Algerian League for the
Defense of Human Rights and The Arab Working Group for Media Monitoring, Jul. 2009,
In March of 2009, the Ghardaïa Court sentenced Nedjar Hadj Daoud , the director of the local al-Waha, to six months in prison on charges of libel10 – a decision that was later suspended for medical reasons. 11 Daoud is notable for his work on corruption cases that have been subject to intensive followup by the justice system over the years. In July 2009, Rabah Lamouchi , a correspondent for al-Nahar, was convicted on charges of slander and libel and received a six-month sentence.12
In November 2008, the Algerian Appeals Court upheld the conviction of lawyer and prominent rights advocate Amin Sidhoum and sentenced him to a six-month prison term (on suspension of execution) on charges of defaming the Algerian judiciary because he wrote an article in which he expressed that the imprisonment of one of his clients was unfair. 13 Furthermore, journalist Hafnaoui al-Ghoul –a member of the High Board of the Algerian League for Human Rights – appeared before the Djelfa
Court on October 26, 2009 on charges of libel and slander and was sentenced to 2 months in prison (suspended sentence). These repressive laws often force journalists and editorial offices to enforce some form of self-censorship for fear of persecution. Journalists frequently receive orders prohibiting them from publishing any press releases addressing the human rights situation in Algeria, particularly those that address the prevalent enforced disappearances, arbitrary detentions or torture in the country. Consequently, most newspapers automatically avoid addressing or tackling human rights issues for fear of reprisals, and legal penalties against anyone who writes about these issues under Article 46 ofthe “Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation.”
Restrictions on the freedom of association and human rights defenders
This year saw further restrictions on the freedom of association and peaceful assembly, as well as further restrictions on human rights defenders. The Ministry of Interior refused to license associations for missing persons and victims of terrorism, and it also prohibited the "Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights" from organizing a training workshop for young journalists in May 2009, without providing any reason for the rejection.14
"Release Nedjar El Hadj Daoud," Al Watan Newpaper, Mar. 3, 2009,
"Conviction of a Journalist in Tebessa to Six Months in Prison," Reporters Without
Borders, Jul. 14, 2009,
"Algerian Human Rights Lawyer Convicted for Denouncing Violations," Amnesty
International, Nov. 26, 2008,
Authorities also banned the "Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights" from organizing a seminar in a hotel on the occasion of the national day of the abolition of death penalty. 15
In July 2009, the police prohibited a symposium on the memory of the victims, and the reconstruction of societies. The symposium was scheduled to be organized by a coalition of victim organizations and hosted by the House for Syndicate Freedoms in the capital.
Mohammed Al-Rahwi , a former victim of enforced disappearance in Morocco, was denied entry into Algeria to participate in the symposium and was returned on the same plane he arrived on. The Algerian authorities have in the past taken similar measures against Siham Bensedrine , the prominent Tunisian rights advocate who was prohibited from participating in one of the programs organized by the "Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights" and was also denied entry. 16
There are indications that the government intends to impose additional restrictions on civil society groups through the introduction of greater restrictions on the laws regulating NGOs and political parties. The groundwork is already being laid in the media, in the midst of official accusations and a media assault launched in particular by the Minister of Interior in September 2009 in which he stated that NGOs were ineffective and blamed them for being unable to contain protest movements and the
Ibadi sectarian events in Berriane, Oran, and Chlef . According to the Minister, the objective of the changes to the laws is “to purify the fabric of the NGO movement and the party class and protect pluralism from degeneration.” The changes will involve additional restrictions on the licensing of NGOs, define their sphere of activity, and place them under stronger tutelage to compel them to achieve the objectives for which they were created. 17
At the same time, the refusal of the authorities to have an open a dialogue with civil society organizations, particularly independent unions, led to many strikes and protests in several fields of work such as health, education and student activities. Most of these protests are usually repressed and those involved prosecuted under the Penal Code. On November 10, 2009, the teachers union organized a sit-in
"Human Rights Under Supression," The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights,
May, 15, 2009,
"Despite Prohibition, We Continue to Exist," Algerian League for the Defense of Human
Rights, Oct. 8, 2009,
"The Memory is Prohibited in Algeria!" Collectif Des Familles de Disparu(e)s en Algérie,
Jul. 17, 2009,
"Algeria: Investigations into the Fate of the Funds Collected by the Muslim Civil
Societies," Al-Hayat, Sep. 11, 2009,
in front of the Ministry of Education, which was stopped by security forces who attacked those involved physically and verbally. It was reported that 50 men and women were arrested as a result, where men were sent to the police station and women were held inside the headquarters of the union. 18
Restrictions imposed on initiatives or actions taken by members of civil society usually fuel riots, such as the riots that took place in late October 2009 and continued for several days in the bloc of Diar Echems in Algeria, which is a slum area whose inhabitants protested the failure of authorities to relocate them to decent accommodation over the past years. These protests were met with repression which in turn caused more riots, resulting in several injuries and widespread arrests.19
The regime’s policies continue to entrench a closed, centralized system that views cultural, linguistic and religious pluralism as a threat to national unity and/or to Algeria’s Arab and Islamic heritage. This was seen particularly in the continued suppression of various local cultures, first and foremost the Amazigh
identity which still has no status in the country's Constitution or in state cultural and educational systems.
In April and May 2009, the Berriane area of the Ghardaïa province in the south of the country witnessed clashes between the Amazigh minority belonging to the Ibadi confession and the Maliki confessional majority that left four people dead, dozens injured, and several government facilities vandalized. The clashes erupted after a group of Ghardaïa residents asked the President to recognize the Ibadi sect.20
On June 25, 2009, Dr Kamel Eddine Fekhar, member of the "Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights" together with two other political activists from the "Socialist Forces Front" were arrested after they called for the official recognition of the Ibadite
faith as well as the ability to preserve the Mazabeh identity which also includes many Amazigh who belong to the same faith. They were charged and accused of harming public good and the arson of a police van during the Berriane riots that took place in February 2009. Although one of the material witnesses in the case withdrew his
statement, Dr Fekhar was sentenced to six months in prison (suspended) in addition to a fine of AD 50,000. The verdict for the two other defendants remains unknown.21
During the month of Ramadan of this year, more people have been arrested and incarcerated for eating in public during Ramadan, which stands in violation of the Algerian law.22
"Teachers Beaten and Insulted by Police," El Watan, Nov. 12, 2009,
Memmoud, Sharif, "Diar Echem Does Not Abate," Liberte Newspaper, Oct. 21, 2009,
Gamal Eldin, Fakher, "How Long Will the War Between the Amazingh Ibadis and the
Mozabits Last?" MZABNews, Jul. 10, 2009,
"Kamel Fekhar Denounces Injustice,".El-Watan Newspaper, Nov. 9, 2009,
Yaseen Tamlaly, "Does Algeria Remain a Civil State?" Al-Akhbar Newspaper, Jul. 17,