Algeria: Intimidation of human rights activists must stop

'Abderrahmane Khelil and Sid Ahmed Mourad should be released immediately and unconditionally,' Amnesty International said. 'Their arrest and detention is the latest in a series of measures aimed at intimidating human rights activists in Algeria and preventing them from carrying out their work.'

The clampdown comes as human rights activists in Algeria investigate the circumstances surrounding the arrest, detention and trials of dozens of people in the context of ongoing anti-government demonstrations in the lead-up to legislative elections on 30 May 2002.

Abderrahmane Khelil is an activist in the Comité SOS-Disparus, a committee working on the issue of the 'disappeared', and a member of the Ligue algérienne de défense des droits de l'homme (LADDH), Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights.

Khelil and Sid Ahmed Mourad were arrested in the morning of 19 May in the vicinity of the University of Bouzareah, in Algiers. They were carrying out research on the circumstances surrounding the allegedly arbitrary arrest of 19 students from the university on 18 May. The arrests followed demonstrations organised to protest against the visit of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to the university campus, during which stones were thrown at the presidential motorcade.

On 20 May 2002 the two men were remanded in custody on the vague charge of 'inciting an unarmed gathering'. The charge appears to have been brought against the men with the intention of curtailing routine fact-finding being carried out by a human rights activist in Algeria.

'The Algerian authorities must ensure that human rights defenders can work freely without interference and harassment in accordance with the UN Human Rights Defenders Declaration of 1998,' Amnesty International said.

Background

The arrest and detention of Abderrahmane Khelil and Sid Ahmed Mourad are the latest in a series of attempts by the Algerian authorities to harass and intimidate human rights activists in Algeria.

Abderrahmane Khelil himself was arrested on two occasions in March 2002 while participating in peaceful demonstrations with families of the 'disappeared' to demand information on the fate of some 4,000 people arrested by the security forces in the last nine years and never seen again. On both occasions he was released without charge after questioning.

Mohamed Smain, President of the LADDH branch in Relizane, western Algeria, was sentenced to one year in prison in February 2002 on charges of defamation, after raising questions related to the state's involvement in serious human rights violations.

He is currently at liberty pending the outcome of an appeal to the Supreme Court. However, for over a year, he has been ordered to remain within the confines of the commune (district) of Relizane and to report to the authorities on a weekly basis, measures apparently aimed at curbing his routine human rights work.

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (formally known as the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, affirms the right of individuals to carry out human rights work without interference or harassment.

Article 6 stipulates that:

'Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (a) To know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms ... (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters.'

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