Algeria: Tough course against human rights activists


Activists complain about increasing repression in Algeria: A prominent journalist has been in prison since the end of last year. A human rights group was also recently dissolved under questionable circumstances.

Arrest of a journalist at a demonstration in Algiers (archive image from 2019)

The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) found out that it had been banned indirectly, namely through postings on social media. The document was published there in the second half of January by an unknown source, in which an administrative court in the capital Algiers had ordered the dissolution of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights – back in September last year. Shortly thereafter, LADDH published the document on their Facebook page.

The document accused the LADDH of “subversive activities” that obstructed the reform process in Algeria and aimed at disrupting public order. The LADDH incited the protest movement in the country and published “false reports about the human rights situation in Algeria”.

Targeted publication?

The league, founded in 1985, is considered one of the most active human rights groups in Algeria . This has long been a thorn in the side of the authorities. As early as May 2022, the Algerian Ministry of the Interior applied for the judicial dissolution of LADDH.

“The state resents us for doing the work that all human rights organizations do worldwide,” says Said Salhi, deputy director of LADDH. “We point out grievances, we document, we deal with the mechanisms of power. Our work has been banned on this basis. That's why many of our activists are labeled 'terrorists'.” The LADDH was not informed about the charges, the trial, or the verdict, according to Salhi in a DW interview.

Activists in an office of the recently dissolved LADDH

Salhi believes that the fact that the document was published on social media in mid-January is related to the visit of the US Deputy Secretary of State for International Organizations, Michele Sison . She traveled to Algeria and Morocco from 21 to 26 January to speak on human rights issues, among other things.

“By dissolving LADDH beforehand and then making this public shortly before the visit, the authorities are making it clear to the state secretary that she no longer has a contact person in LADDH,” says Salhi, outlining his assumption. The Algerian authorities have not given any confirmation of this, nor of the entire process, and a request from DW to the Algerian embassy in Berlin has so far gone unanswered.

Criticism from international non-governmental organizations

In response to the closure of the LADDH, three international human rights organizations – the Human Rights League (LDH), the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) – also criticized the human rights situation in a joint declaration at the end of last week in Paris in Algeria. The three organizations complained that this was getting worse and that the actions of the Algerian government were “more worrying than ever”.

Since 2019 there has been a “constant deterioration and clear violation of fundamental rights and freedoms” in Algeria. Several Algerian human rights groups criticized the closure of LADDH in a statement.

“Legalistic repression”

In Algeria, one can observe “a kind of legalistic repression” through court decisions, says political scientist Maria Josua from the “German Institute for Global and Area Studies” (GIGA) in Hamburg. “These verdicts often have no real legal basis, but rely on flimsy and vague justifications such as the threat to the unity and stability of the state. Many activists have been arrested on the basis of such laws,” says the Algeria expert. “In the case of LADDH, this happened in an almost Kafkaesque way: even she herself was not told that action was being taken against her. So she had no opportunity to defend herself or even find out about the verdict.”

The fact that such a court decision initially remains secret is an indication that the state is actually aware of how questionable its actions are – according to Maria Josua's interpretation. “But the fact that legal bases are still invoked indicates that they are still trying to maintain some semblance of the rule of law.”

Prominent journalist in custody

But not only human rights activists are under pressure in Algeria. In their joint letter, the three organizations mentioned also criticize the ongoing imprisonment of the prominent journalist Ihsane El Kadi. He has been in custody since the end of last year.

In custody: the journalist Ihsane El Kadi – here Screenshot of his Twitter account

Algerian prosecutors have accused him of “propaganda for foreign parties”. In addition, according to the prosecution, he illegally collected donations – “from people and organizations inside and outside the country.” In doing so, he endangered state security and national unity. The prosecutors did not comment more specifically.

El Kadi, head of the liberal news website 'Maghreb Emergent' and the broadcaster Radio M, had repeatedly expressed criticism of the government's work. For example, he had publicly questioned the success of their anti-corruption efforts. Now he could face a prison sentence of up to seven years.

The government's tough course dates back to 2019, when the Hirak protest movement was founded. She initially opposed a renewed candidacy of the then, now deceased President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. As a result of these protests, Bouteflika resigned from his position a few months later, in April 2019. But even after that, Hirak continued to address grievances, such as corruption.

Rally of the Hirak protest movement in Algiers, 2021

“At the moment it is very clear that the government is not in good standing,” says political scientist Josua. “That's why she's trying to survive through repression.” The Algeria expert doubts whether this will succeed in the long term: “There is considerable resentment among the population.”

Human rights activists: government doesn't want any witnesses

The repression has already happened met many activists of the now banned human rights league LADDH, reports its deputy chief Salhi. “Around a dozen people have been arrested on serious charges, including alleged terrorism. Some have been in prison for many months. Others have gone into exile.” That's why he himself lives in Belgium. “The government wants to prevent the LADDH remaining as a witness to such repression.”

Algeria: paralyzed country