Human Rights Watch called on Algerian authorities to stop their harassment of human rights activist Mohamed Smain, and sought assurances that he would be allowed to continue his human rights activities and to travel.
Smain, who is based in the western province of Relizane, has publicly and repeatedly accused a local militia headed by a former mayor of carrying out scores of kidnappings, "disappearances" and assassinations in the area. He was jailed for two days last week and then released provisionally after the ex-mayor, who himself has not been charged, filed a defamation suit against him. Mr. Smain is barred from leaving Relizane without court permission and his passport, national identity card and driver's license have been confiscated.
"This is pure intimidation intended to stop him from speaking out," said Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. While recognizing the right of parties to file defamation suits, Megally criticized the jailing of Mr. Smain, noting that criminal defamation statutes such as Algeria's, which provide prison terms for this offense, violate the right to freedom of expression.
The full text of the letter to President Bouteflika (in French) is available on the internet here.