Algeria: Abderrahmane Zitout's Deprivation of Liberty Deemed Arbitrary by UN Experts

Abderrahmane ZITOUT

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has called on the Algerian authorities to immediately release Mr. Abderrahmane Zitout, an Algerian citizen arbitrarily detained since his arrest at his workplace on 30 March 2022 by intelligence agents. 

In its Opinion No.53/2023, issued following the complaint filed by Alkarama on 30 September 2022, the Working Group acknowledged the arbitrary nature of Mr. Abderrahmane Zitout's deprivation of liberty. Arrested in retaliation for his family connection to his brother in exile in the United Kingdom Abderrahmane Zitout is the brother of Mr. Mohamed Larbi Zitout, a former Algerian diplomat who was exiled to London in 1995 where he was granted political refugee status after exposing and denouncing serious human rights violations committed by the Algerian army and police during the civil war. 

Since then, he has been a political opponent calling for the establishment of the rule of law and democracy in Algeria and an end to the army's stranglehold on the Algerian state. Mr. Mohamed Zitout was recently placed on the list of people officially classified as a "terrorists" because of his involvement in the Rachad movement, a pacifist political movement of which he is the co-founder. This movement, without any ideological label, calls for the establishment of the rule of law and democracy in Algeria, in accordance with its statutes and its Charter. 

Arrested on 30 March 2022 on the pretext of subversive activities, affiliation to a terrorist group or false publications, Mr. Abderrahmane Zitout was taken to an unknown destination where he was held incommunicado without contact with the outside world. It was only on 4 April 2022 that his family learned that he was in El Harrach prison (a suburb of Algiers). During a first visit by his family to the prison, he reported that he spent the 5 days following his arrest at the central police station in Algiers where he was questioned at length about his links with his brother and whether he shared his political convictions and those of the "Hirak". At no time did the officers question him about the facts for which he was allegedly arrested. 

The Working Group concludes that his detention was arbitrary 

In its Opinion No.53/2023, the UN Working Group noted that the lack of notification of the reasons for the arrest, the delay in bringing him before a judicial authority, the excessive length of police custody, the continued pre-trial detention to the detriment of alternative measures, the incommunicado detention and the enforced disappearance of  Mr. Zitout are all elements that make his detention arbitrary. 

The UN's independent experts have indicated that in "(...) stating in its response to the complaint that Mr. Zitout was arrested for publishing leaflets considered to insult the symbols of the State, supporting the Rachad political movement and calling for rebellion by the security forces", the State in fact acknowledges that he was prosecuted for exercising his right to freedom of expression. 

The Working Group also reiterated its concerns about the "vagueness of the Algerian anti-terrorism law, on the basis of which Mr. Zitout is detained", recalling that "vaguely and broadly drafted laws may have a chilling effect on the exercise of protected rights" in that they "may give rise to abuses, including arbitrary deprivation of liberty". 

The experts noted several violations of Mr. Zitout's right to a fair trial and his conviction in the absence of material evidence. Finally, as highlighted by Alkarama in its complaint, the UN experts noted that Abderrahmane Zitout was subject to "guilt by association" since "detained on a discriminatory basis, in particular because of his family ties alone and in retaliation for the activism and political opinions of his exiled family member."