Targeting of Algerian lawyers is a new escalation in the criminalisation of fundamental freedoms

We wrote to the Algerian authorities about the harassment, prosecution, and suspensions faced by lawyers due to their involvement in the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement. Human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and journalists have faced prosecution on the basis of unfounded terrorism charges.

Algerian protest for political prisoners

Who we wrote to

We've written to the Algerian authorities.

We wrote this letter alongside:

  • Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH)
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • Institute for the Rule of Law of the International Association of Lawyers (UIA-IROL)
  • International Bar Association's Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)
  • Lawyers for Lawyers
  • Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada

What's the issue

As of 30 June, there are at least 304 prisoners of conscience, a record number, while more than 6,400 peaceful protesters have been arrested since the return of the Hirak pro-democracy protest movement.

There's also an alarming new trend in the country of prosecuting human rights defenders, peaceful protesters and journalists on the basis of unfounded terrorism charges.

The role of lawyers in protecting the rule of law and human rights is all the more fundamental given the context of the current crackdown in Algeria.

The Collective for the Defence of Hirak Detainees was formed in July 2019 after the first wave of arrests of peaceful Hirak protesters and voluntarily defends those arbitrarily prosecuted.

We're concerned that lawyers have faced harassment, prosecution, and suspensions for their work and involvement with the collective.

Human rights lawyer Abderraouf Arslane, a representative of the collective, is being prosecuted on terrorism-related charges of “participation in a terrorist organisation” and “spreading false news that may undermine security and public order”.

The prosecution appears to be linked to his work as a human rights lawyer and his long-time defence of Hirak activists, notably Aziz Bekakria.

Arslane was arrested on 26 May while he was in court representing Bekakria. He is currently in pre-trial detention.

On 25 April and 25 May, two other lawyers Mohamed el-Amin Ben Dahmane and Mohamed Makkawi, both members of the collective, were suspended from law practice by the Tlemcen Bar without any justification.

Their suspension appears to be related to their engagement in the collective and to their defence of Hirak detainees.

Prior to their suspension, the lawyers had been warned by the president of the Tlemcen Bar about speaking publicly about the prosecutions of Hirak detainees and threatened with reprisals if they ran for office in the local bar elections.

We're concerned by the introduction of the Presidential Ordinance 21-09 which was introduced on 8 June, as it has the potential to be used to criminalise the work of lawyers and wider human rights work.

The ordinance sets out 15 years imprisonment for individuals who share information deemed "classified" and three to five years' imprisonment for individuals who share information about ongoing judicial investigations or prosecutions.

This constitutes another step in the obstruction of lawyers’ work as has the potential create a basis to prosecute anyone releasing information that authorities themselves deem to be an "offence" or "undermining" their interests, and would forbid anyone from sending information about a current investigation.

What we asked for

We urge the Algerian government to:

  • guarantee that all lawyers and members of the judiciary in Algeria are able to perform their professional duties without threat, intimidation, hindrance, harassment, improper interference or reprisals
  • cease arbitrary prosecutions and sanctions, notably against lawyers
  • cease the prosecutions against lawyer Abderraouf Arslane
  • reinstate arbitrarily sanctioned judges and lawyers
  • rescind Ordinance 21-09

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