The human rights organisation Amnesty International has urged the Algerian government to launch an investigation into the enforced disappearance of activist Abdelhamid Bouzid. Bouzid has been missing for 20 days, and his family and friends are concerned for his safety.
Amnesty has called on the Algerian authorities to ensure that a prompt and thorough investigation is conducted into the circumstances surrounding Bouziza’s disappearance. The organisation has also urged the authorities to take all necessary measures to protect his safety and well-being.
In November, judicial authorities in Tlemcen ordered the opening of an investigation into human rights violations in Algeria, such as the suspicious deaths in custody or torture of activists at the hands of the police. However, in at least three cases documented by Amnesty International, investigations into such violations have not resulted in justice and reparations for the victims.
The lack of accountability for human rights violations in Algeria is a longstanding problem. For years, Amnesty International has documented cases of torture and other ill-treatment, as well as deaths in custody, for which there has been no justice. This impunity has created a climate of fear in which people are reluctant to speak out against abuses, knowing that they are unlikely to see their perpetrators brought to justice.
Bouziza’s family and lawyer searched frantically for him for weeks while the authorities kept information about his exact whereabouts hidden. This precedent is extremely worrying. The Algerian authorities need to clear up what happened to Bouziza and hold those responsible for his enforced disappearance accountable,” said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
According to Amnesty International, this incident is part of a wider pattern of human rights violations in Algeria, where hundreds of activists and protesters have been arbitrarily detained, and dozens were subjected to torture and other ill treatment at the hands of the security forces. Yet security forces responsible for these violations continue to enjoy impunity.
The organization has documented numerous cases of activists and protesters being arbitrarily detained, often inhumane conditions, and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. In some cases, detainees have been held for months without charge or trial.
The security forces have used excessive force to disperse peaceful protests, resulting in injuries and even death. In recent years, there have been several high-profile cases of protesters being killed by security forces.
According to Bouziza’s family and lawyers, he was detained by security forces at his home in Tlemcen on 19 October. Despite multiple attempts to locate him in Tlemcen, Algiers, and Blida, police in Tlemcen denied that he was detained. Judicial authorities in three cities also denied that he had been charged or was scheduled to appear before their courts. His family and lawyers were unable to identify his whereabouts or call or visit him.
On 6 November, lawyer for Algerian activist Abdelwahab Bouziza filed a complaint with the Court of Tlemcen, asking them to investigate his client’s enforced disappearance. It wasn’t until 8 November that lawyers confirmed Bouziza had appeared before the court in Boufarik on 24 October, and that he was being held in Hay El Darwich Prison in Blida, over 470 kilometers away from his home.
On 10 November, Bouziza’s brother and mother were able to visit him in prison for the first time since his disappearance. His lawyers suspect he has been charged with terrorism-related offenses for posts he made on social media about the arrests and trials of other activists in the country.
Since April 2021, the Algerian authorities have been extensively resorting to the use of the counterterrorism provisions in the Penal Code to prosecute activists and human rights defenders who voice dissenting opinions online or participate in peaceful protests. In doing so, the authorities have been able to target and silence those who speak out against the government, stifling any form of dissent or criticism.
The use of the counterterrorism laws to target and silence activists and human rights defenders is a worrying trend that must be stopped. The Algerian government must respect the right to freedom of expression and allow dissenting voices to be heard. Only then can the country move forward and address the many challenges it faces.