18 October 2013

Algeria: Drop Charges Against Blogger - Detained for Insulting the President

press release

Tunis — Algerian authorities should release and drop all charges against a blogger arrested on charges of "glorification of terrorism" and "insulting state institutions."

Abdelghani Aloui has been detained since September 15, 2013, after he shared photos and caricatures of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on his Facebook page and criticized the president's potential candidacy in the upcoming elections. Any attempt to criminalize peaceful criticism or even "insults" against public officials or institutions violates international standards on freedom of expression.

"The Algerian authorities like to talk about openness and reform, but the reality is different," said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Algeria needs to stop arresting people for peaceful commentary, and that includes criticism of the government or president."

On September 13, security forces searched Aloui's house and left him a summons to appear at the Bab Jedid branch of the investigative police in Algiers. They arrested him when he arrived at the police station and held him in pre-arraignment detention for 10 days. Under the Algerian code of criminal procedure, terrorism suspects can be detained for up to 12 days before being brought before a judge.

The investigative judge of the 7th Bureau of the Specialized Judicial Section in Algiers in charge of criminal networks investigations charged Aloui with "insulting state institutions" under article 146 of the Algerian code of criminal procedures, and with "glorification of terrorism," under article 87(b), paragraph 4 of the same code.

Algerian authorities in January 2012 adopted a new information law, which eliminated prison sentences but raised the fines for speech offenses by journalists, including defaming or showing contempt for the president, state institutions, or courts.

But Aloui faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty of the charge of glorification of terrorism, a vague and imprecise crime under the penal code that allows Algerian courts to prosecute people for a range of political and associative activities.

Amine Sidhom, Aloui's lawyer, told Human Rights Watch that the only evidence prosecutors presented to the investigative judge to show that Aloui had "glorified terrorism" was a scarf agents found in his house bearing the Islamic creed "La Ilaha illa Allah" [There is no god but God]. On October 9, Aloui's lawyers applied for his provisional release, and they are still awaiting the decision by the investigative judge.

Despite the information law, offenses that criminalize the peaceful expression of political or other opinion pervade the Algerian penal code. It provides for up to three years in prison for tracts, bulletins, or flyers that "may harm the national interest," and up to one year for defaming or insulting the president of the republic, the parliament, the army, or state institutions.

The public prosecutor also brought terrorism charges against Saber Saidi, a cyber-activist detained by Algerian intelligence agents on July 11, 2012. Officials charged him with "glorification of terrorism" for sharing videos of uprisings in other Arab countries and Algerian opposition protests.A tribunal acquitted him in April 2013 and ordered his release after nine months in pre-trial detention.

"As Algeria seeks a place on the UN Human Rights Council, these trials are only adding to the authorities' record of repression of peaceful expression, assembly, and association," Goldstein said.

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