(Beirut) – The Algerian authorities should immediately release a prominent rights defender arrested on December 10, 2019 and convicted and sentenced the same day, Human Rights Watch said today.
Kaddour Chouicha was sentenced to one year in prison on charges that appeared to be related solely to his criticism of military and political authorities and his participation in a political protest. Chouicha, vice president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights and president of its Oran section, has been active in the Hirak protest movement.
“Chouicha appears to have been convicted simply for criticizing the armed forces, making political statements, and participating in a political protest,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
More than 120 protesters arrested for their peaceful roles in the Hirak movement have either been sent to prison or are in pretrial detention. Among them are well-known figures such as Lakhdar Bouregga, a veteran of Algeria’s independence war, Karim Tabbou, a political leader, and Abdelwahab Fersaoui, president of the Youth Action Rally organization and a human rights defender.
The Hirak protest movement, initially formed in February to oppose President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s plan to seek a fifth term, has remained active since forcing his resignation in April.
Security forces first arrested Chouicha on October 24 in Oran, Algeria. At the time, he told Human Rights Watch that police detained him as he participated in a sit-in in front of the Cité Djamel Courthouse in Oran, when he went to his car to fetch a banner expressing solidarity with prisoners of opinion. An officer informed him that he was under investigation for “participation in a gathering of an unarmed nature” and for “distributing documents harmful to the national interest.” The police released him at around 6 p.m. the same day, after confiscating his phone.
On December 9, the police called Chouicha and asked him to come to the police station in Oran the following day to retrieve his telephone, said his lawyer, Farid Khemisti. But when Chouicha reported to the police station on December 10, officers placed him under arrest and transferred him to the Sidi Djamel first instance court in Oran.
A prosecutor at the same court charged him with “rebellion” under Article 183 of the penal code, based on Facebook posts he published in November opposing the presidential elections and criticizing the army, and “compromising the integrity of the national territory” under Article 79 of the penal code, stemming from his participation in a protest on December 4 outside a hall where a presidential candidate had organized a rally.
Khemisti said that the prosecutor referred the case to a judge using an “immediate appearance” (comparution immédiate) procedure, which normally applies to the cases of people caught in the act of committing a crime. A judge at the court convicted Chouicha that afternoon on both charges and sentenced him to one year in prison at the Oran prison.
Chouicha has appealed the verdict, Khemisti said.