The EuroMed Monitor has expressed grave concern over the assault launched by police and gendarmerie intervention forces on Sunday against several judges gathered in the Oran Criminal Court, considering the incident as a grave and unprecedented escalation, the first of its kind against the judiciary in Algeria.
The judges had gathered to prevent the official opening of the criminal session and the appointment of new judges, as part of a massive transfer process approved by the Minister of Justice, Belkacem Zgmati, on 24 October.
In a press release today, the Geneva-based EuroMed Monitor said that Zgmati had authorised the judicial councils to summon the public force if necessary, during the inauguration of the new judges who approved the transfer decision. This exposed the dominance of the executive branch over the other two sovereign branches of the Algerian state.
EuroMed Monitor pointed out that Zgmati’s decision to conduct an extended transfer plan in the judiciary included about 3000 judges. Thus, the resolution was rejected by the Algerian Magistrates’ Union (SNM), declaring an open strike since 27 October, to demand to foreground the independence of the judicial system, in response to what they called the “infringement of the executive authority on the judiciary.”
EuroMed Monitor stressed that this strike is unprecedented in the history of the Algerian judiciary. Hence, the judges demanded to “freeze the annual transfer of judges and let the Supreme Council of the Judiciary re-examine the procedure at the legal and objective ground, in addition to fulfilling the judges’ professional and social demands”. On the other hand, the striking judges accused the Ministry of Justice of using public security forces to suppress and beat judges.
EuroMed Monitor indicated that the judges had already presented their professional and social demands on 26 June and 21 September. However, those demands were overlooked. The observatory also expressed concerns that the executive authority would override the judiciary, which would be a severe blow to the country’s emerging democracy, following the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika last April.
According to the SNM, the response rate to the judges’ strike was about 98 per cent. The SNM accused the country’s ruling authorities of using police tactics against the judges, stressing that the attack would continue until the resignation of the Minister of Justice.
Legal researcher at EuroMed Monitor, Tarek AL-Lewa, said that the 1996 Algerian Constitution, which includes the constitutional amendment of 2016, guarantees the separation of powers, the independence of justice and legal protection, and supervising the work of public authorities within an environment of legitimacy, in which citizenship blossoms in all ways possible. ”
AL-Lewa, added: “Article 15 of Title III of the Algerian Constitution stipulates that the state should be based on the principles of democratic systems, separation of powers and social justice.”
AL-Lewa went on to say the independence of the judiciary is a solid pillar of democratic practice and the consolidation of equality before the law.
AL-Lewa explained that Article 156 of the Constitution stipulates that “the judiciary is independent and exercises activities within the framework of the law”, which confirms that the Constitution was keen to establish the principle of independence and impartiality of the judiciary, vis à vis the other authorities, through the provision of this principle and empowering it to the ultimate level of sophistication reserved to constitutional texts, in order not to preserve it.
EuroMed Monitor urged the Algerian authorities to respect the “Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary,” which were adopted and made public by UN General Assembly resolutions 40/32 of 29 November, 1985, 40/146 of 13 December 1985, and the Arab Charter on Human Rights adopted by the Sixteenth Arab Summit hosted by Tunisia on 23 May 2004, when dealing with the judiciary file.
EuroMed Monitor called on the authorities to publicly apologize to the assaulted judges, open a severe investigation against the offenders, including security officials responsible for the aggression, and refer the perpetrators to discipline councils and trial as appropriate, in addition to addressing the violations committed by the Ministry of Justice and preventing it from interfering with the powers of the Supreme Judicial Council, which represents the pillar of the judiciary independence in Algeria.