A number of leading human rights groups said on Monday that the Algerian authorities should drop all charges against a leading activist and his 40 co-defendants. According to Human Rights Watch, EuroMed Rights, Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders, the charges against Kamaleddine Fekhar and his colleagues are based on their peaceful activism for the rights of the Amazigh, or Berber, population.
The groups said Fekhar and most of his co-accused, who have been detained since July 2015, face very similar charges, including murder, terrorism and other serious offences that could result in the death penalty. The acts involved were, it is alleged, carried out during the deadly ethnic clashes that erupted in the Mzab region between 2013 and 2015.
The statement from the rights organisations called on the Algerian authorities to release all of the defendants from pre-trial detention immediately unless there is individual justification in each case necessitating their continued detention after nearly two years. All of the detainees, they stressed, deserve to go to trial within a reasonable period of time.
“If the Algerian authorities want to try suspects for inciting and participating in bloody acts in the state of Ghardaia,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, “then the trial must be based on strong and individual evidence.”
The legal authorities in Algeria issued their 150-page decision to refer the case to trial on 14 February. The signatory organisations have reviewed the report. Algeria’s High Court rejected the defence appeal against the decision, and the trial opened on 25 May.
Kamaleddine Fekhar was president of the branch of the Algerian League for Human Rights in the city of Ghardaia from 2004 to 2014. In late 2013, he founded the Movement for the Autonomy of the Mzab, a northern Sahara region, and has condemned the government for what he called a policy of apartheid and discrimination against the Mozabites, an Amazigh ethnic minority in the region. Most of the co-accused are also pro-Amazigh activists who favour autonomy for the Mzab.
“No one should be prosecuted for his peaceful advocacy of the rights of minorities,” insisted the president of EuroMed Rights, Michel Tubiana, “including for regional autonomy and independence, in compliance with the international obligations of Algeria.”
Under international human rights law, governments may punish incitement to violence, hatred or discrimination. However, laws prohibiting incitement must be defined in a clear, narrow and specific way consistent with protecting the right to freedom of expression.