Algeria: Ensure Fair Trial for Minority Rights Activists
Fekhar and Other Amazigh Rights Advocates Held Since July 2015
The Algerian authorities should drop all charges against a leading activist and his 40 co-defendants that are based on their peaceful activism for the rights of the Amazigh, or Berber, minority, EuroMed Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Front Line Defenders said today. Kamaleddine Fekhar and most of his co-accused have been detained since July 2015.
Regarding other violence-related charges that the defendants face, the authorities should immediately release them from pretrial detention unless there is individual justification in each case of the necessity for their continued detention after nearly two years. All the detainees are entitled to a trial within a reasonable time. The defendants face very similar charges, including murder, terrorism, and other serious offenses that could result in the death penalty, for their alleged role in the deadly ethnic clashes that erupted in the Mzab region between 2013 and 2015.
“If Algerian authorities are to try those suspected of instigating and participating in deadly violence in Ghardaia Province, it should be on the basis of solid, individualized evidence,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The accusation chamber, a pretrial chamber tasked with confirming or rejecting charges based on a report by an investigative judge, issued its 150-page decision to refer the case to trial on February 14, 2017. The signatory organizations have reviewed the report. Algeria’s High Court rejected the defense’s appeal of the decision, and the trial opened on May 25.
Fekhar headed the section of the Algerian League for Human Rights in the city of Ghardaia from 2004 to 2014. In late 2013, he founded the Movement for the Autonomy of the Mzab, a northern Sahara region, and has condemned the government for what he called a policy of apartheid and discrimination against the Mozabites, an Amazigh ethnic minority in the region. Most of the co-accused are also pro-Amazigh activists who favor autonomy for the Mzab.
“No one should be prosecuted for his peaceful advocacy for rights of minorities, including for regional autonomy and independence, in compliance with international obligations of Algeria,” declared Michel Tubiana, president of EuroMed Rights.
Under international human rights law, governments may penalize incitement to violence, hatred, or discrimination. But laws prohibiting incitement must be defined in a clear, narrow, and specific way consistent with protecting the right to freedom of expression. Prosecuting incitement to violence should be limited to cases in which the incitement is intentional and directly linked to the violence. Prosecutions for incitement to hatred or discrimination should never include peaceful advocacy for the rights of a segment of the population or regional autonomy or independence.
The court rejected requests by the defense lawyers to have their clients released on bail pending trial, most recently on February 14. The judicial authorities did not provide specific facts or circumstances to justify the rejection, as required under international human rights law and standards.
In addition to the flawed charges and evidence, the lengthy pretrial detention of the accused, without providing a justification in each case of the necessity for continued detention, violates their rights to liberty and due process, which include the presumption of release pending trial.
Article 14.3(c) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Algeria along with its Optional Protocol, states that “in the determination of any criminal charge, everyone shall be entitled to be tried without undue delay.” The Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance in Africa, adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in 1999, stipulate that “unless there is sufficient evidence that deems it necessary to prevent a person arrested on a criminal charge from fleeing, interfering with witnesses or posing a clear and serious risk to others, States must ensure that they are not kept in custody pending their trial.”
“The victims of the tragic events in the Mzab deserve justice, which a deeply flawed trial cannot serve,” said Heba Morayef, North Africa research director at Amnesty International.