(Beirut) Algeria’s judiciary sentenced an Amazigh activist to a suspended one-year prison term on August 7, 2018 for a Facebook post criticizing government discrimination against a minority group, Human Rights Watch said today. In the 2014 social media post, Salim Yezza criticized the authorities’ discriminatory policy against the Mozabites, an Amazig or Berber – ethnic minority in the Ghardaia region.

Amazigh activist Yezza Salim appears in photo from Wikipedia profile. 

© Adil Massil

Yezza is a member of the Rally of Amazigh, a group based in France, where he has lived since 2011. Authorities arrested Yezza on July 14 at the Biskra airport as he was returning to Paris after a visit. An investigative judge ordered him held in Ghardaia prison on July 16. The first instance court in Ghardaia sentenced him to the suspended prison sentence and a 100,000-dinar fine (US$840) on charges of inciting a public gathering under article 100 of the penal code and disseminating calls of hatred and discrimination under article 295 (1).

“More than three years after deadly clashes in Ghardaia, the authorities are busy searching for scapegoats rather than taking the necessary steps to investigate what happened,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Violence has erupted periodically between Mozabites and Arab communities in Ghardaia Province since 2013. One of the deadliest episodes, from July 7-10, 2015, left about 25 people dead and more than 70 injured from both communities, mostly from gunfire, media reported.

The indictment, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, stated that Yezza had published on January 25, 2014, a post that allegedly contributed to the violence in Ghardaia during the deadly ethnic clashes between Arabic and Berber communities.

Yet in his Facebook post, Yezza only criticized the “silence of many in Algeria in the face of the oppression against the Mozabites,” and said certain parties and groups, which he did not specify, “are making alliances with the criminal Algerian regime and its institutions.” In the same post, he also declared he will stand against the oppressor no matter how strong they are. “I am also a Mozabite and I will not accept being attacked, just like I will not accept attacking anyone myself.”

In the indictment, the investigative judge considered that depicting the ethnic Mozabite minority as a victim and the opposite side, the Arabs in general, as oppressors, was a call for discrimination. Saying that Yezza’s statements had been published a few days before the clashes, though they were posted more than a year earlier, the judge declared the posts, “have undoubtedly instigated hatred between members of the same society and divided them according to their ethnic and religious creeds.”

In 2015, Yezza appeared on France 24 to condemn the Algerian government for siding with the country’s Arab community and not protecting the Mozabites from attacks and attempts to uproot them from the Ghardaia region.

Under international human rights law, governments should penalize incitement to violence, hatred, or discrimination. But laws prohibiting incitement must be defined in a clear, narrow, and specific way, consistent with protecting the right to freedom of expression. Prosecution should be limited to cases in which the incitement is intentional and directly linked to the violence. Prosecutions for incitement to hatred or discrimination should never include peaceful advocacy for the rights of a segment of the population or regional autonomy or independence.

“No one should be prosecuted for their peaceful advocacy for the rights of minorities or for criticizing Algeria’s discriminatory policies,” Whitson said.