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The declaration on February 9 of a 12-month state of emergency culminated a month of mounting human rights abuses in Algeria since the ruling authorities cancelled the second round of parliamentary elections.  During that month, security forces rounded up hundreds of members of the Islamic Salvation Front (le Front Islamique du Salut, or FIS), and opened fire on demonstrators in cities around the country, killing more than 50 persons as of February 9.

Neither the authorities nor the FIS have revealed the number of persons arrested.  However, those seized include most of the top officials of the FIS as well as imams (preachers), mid-level officials, and several party members who were elected to local government posts in 1990 or to parliament during the first round of elections on December 26.  Many have been arrested on charges that violate their right to free expression and association.  These include violations of decrees that forbid gatherings near mosques or using mosques for political purposes, and offenses related to criticizing the regime or disseminating FIS communiqués urging disobedience to the regime.

Middle East Watch deplores the de facto coup of January 11, which was staged to prevent the FIS from consolidating its strong showing in the first round of elections.  Middle East Watch also condemns the massive crackdown which has ensued, including the indiscriminate roundups of suspected FIS members and the arrests of 12 journalists.   We urge the present regime to act to lift the state of emergency and allow the democratic process in Algeria to resume without delay.  We urge the release of FIS leaders Abdelkader Hachani and Rabah Kebir, arrested in late January for acts of peaceful expression, as well as all those who have been arrested for offenses involving nonviolent speech or association.

While condemning the coup, Middle East Watch and the Women's Rights Project of Human Rights Watch are nevertheless highly critical of positions taken publicly by FIS leaders that are hostile toward democracy and equal rights for women.  We also deplore the acts of intimidation and sometimes violence carried out in recent years by Islamists -- whose links to the FIS are not always apparent -- against persons, often women, who do not conform to their notions of propriety.

The troubling positions of the FIS do not, however, justify the annulment of elections that the party was likely to win.  Such a blatant violation of the Algerian people's right to political participation could have been justified only by persuasive evidence that a FIS parliamentary victory would have posed a clear, imminent and substantial threat to fundamental human rights.  The current regime has failed to make such a case, while at the same time itself engaging in massive human rights abuses.  (The policy of Middle East Watch toward interruptions of the democratic process is outlined on pages 16 and 17.)

Middle East Watch also condemns the escalation of violence against policemen by suspected Islamist activists.  At least nine members of the security forces have been reported killed in ambushes and knife attacks since the coup d'état.  One police officer was killed and two wounded during an armed attack on a surveillance post outside Algiers early on January 19.  On February 8, two police officers were reportedly knifed to death while attempting to carry out an arrest in Bordj Menaiel, east of Algiers.  Two days later, suspected Islamists with automatic weapons killed six police officers in an ambush in the Casbah of Algiers.

index  |  next>>February 1992