Algerian authorities must immediately release and drop all charges against three defence lawyers arrested and prosecuted for defending their clients and exercising their right to freedom of expression, said Amnesty International today. Abderraouf Arslane’s trial opens on 14 June, more than a year after he was arrested.
Arslane is being tried over charges stemming from his defence of political activists while lawyers Abdelkader Chohra and Yassine Khlifi are being tried for protesting the suspicious death in custody of an activist. All three are currently in pretrial detention pending their trial.
“The authorities’ wrongful arrest and prosecution of these lawyers send the chilling message that defending political prisoners is not tolerated in Algeria,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“Algeria is obligated to protect people’s right to a fair trial, which cannot be done without proper legal representation. Lawyers must be permitted to practise their profession and express themselves without fear of arrest and intimidation.”
Abderraouf Arslane was detained on 26 May 2021 in the Court of Tebessa, where he was defending three activists from the Hirak, the mass protest movement that has called for political change in Algeria since 2019. He was held in pre-trial detention amid accusations of ties with the unregistered political movement Rachad and the expression of his opinions online, and charged with “spreading fake news” and terrorist-related offences. His first trial session is scheduled for 15 June 2022, which is more than one year after his arrest.
Abdelkader Chohra was detained by security forces on 14 May 2022 while participating in a peaceful gathering outside Al Kliaa prison in Tipaza to protest the suspicious death of activist Hakim Debbazi, who died while being held in pre-trial detention.
Yacine Khlifi was summoned by the Algiers police force on 31 May 2022. One of his lawyers, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, told Amnesty International that he attended the interrogation at the police which revolved around a video Khlifi had published talking about the suspicious death of Hakim Debbazi. In the video, Khlifi also criticized the Minister of Justice for the inadequate communication around Hakim Debbazi’s death and suggested that two other inmates have died in suspicious circumstances in Chlef prison during the previous two weeks.
Both Chohra and Khlifi are detained under charges of “spreading fake news” and “incitement to unarmed gathering.”
“Algerian authorities have over the past year jailed at least two additional lawyers for their work in attempting to uncover the truth around suspicious deaths in prisons, which shows how rampant repression has become in Algeria,” said Amna Guellali.
Legal representation is fundamental to the right to a fair trial, which is enshrined in numerous treaties binding on Algeria, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on human and peoples’ rights. According to the United Nation’s Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, governments should ensure lawyers “are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference” and they should also “not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions”.
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