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UN Human Rights Committee condemns Algeria in Abbassi Madani case

Alkarama for Human Rights and Algeria-Watch, 21 June 2007

Alkarama for Human Rights and Algeria-Watch have noted the investigations made by the UN Human Rights Committee during its 89th session in New York, 12-30 March 2007, in the case of the sentencing of Mr. Abbassi Madani to 12 years of criminal imprisonment by the military court of Blida, and his house arrest afterwards.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had already declared the detention of the principal heads of FIS arbitrary in an opinion rendered on 3 December 2001 and had demanded that the Algerian government “take the necessary steps to remedy the situation and to bring it into conformity with the standards and principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Algeria took no action in response to this UN advice, following which the family of Mr. Abbassi Madani, represented by Mr. Rachid Mesli, appealed to the Human Rights Committee, a monitoring body for the international convention ratified by Algeria on 12 September 1989, considering that his sentencing by a military court following an unfair trial, and his being placed under house arrest, constituted a violation by Algeria of its international agreements.

The UN Human Rights Committee has therefore just accepted the complaint lodged at Geneva on 31 March 2003 in the name of the president of the dissolved FIS.

The Committee considered in particular the fact that Mr. Abbassi Madani had been judged in 1992 by a military tribunal for damage to State security and the good functioning of the national economy without the Algerian state having then justified recourse to this court or shown that ordinary civil courts or “other alternative forms of special or high-security courts” were not competent to undertake the trial.”  The committee concluded that the trial and sentencing of Abbassi Madani by a military court constituted a violation of article 14 of the Covenant.

The Committee also noted that Mr. Abbassi Madani, who had been condemned to 12 years’ prison, had at first been freed on 15 July 1997 to be put under house arrest on 1 September 1997 without having been informed in writing of the reasons for this house arrest.  The committee further noted that “a denial of freedom had been committed between 1 September 1997 and 1 July 2003”, when the house arrest ceased.

According to the UN Committee, this “detention thus takes an arbitrary character and therefore constitutes a violation of the Covenant” (paragraph 3, article 9.)

Finally, the fact of having been placed under house arrest for nearly six years without any specific justification and without possibility of judicial examination on the one hand, and of having been deprived of access to a defense attorney and of the chance to contest the legality of this detenion on the other, represent, according to the Committee, a further violation of the Covenant (paragraph 4, article 9.)

The Human Rights Committee concludes that the Algerian state “is required to provide Mr. Abbasi Madani with an effective remedy” and to “take appropriate measures to make sure that he receives appropriate reparations, including in the form of remuneration.”

Finally, the UN body declares that the Algerian state “is required to take measures to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future” and asks that the State party provide it within 90 days with information on the measures taken to put this decision into effect and invites it to make it public.

Background:

Abbassi Madani (born 1931) is a founding member and president of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), a party accepted by the Algerian government in 1989.  On the eve of the legislative elections of June 1991 and following the FIS victory in the local elections of 1990, the government was considering putting into place a new electoral law that had been unanimously condemned by the Algerian opposition parties.  By way of protesting against this law, FIS decided to organise a general strike together with sit-ins in public places.  After a few days of strikes and marches, the FIS leadership and the government agreed to put a stop to this protest movement in exchange for revising the electoral law soon.  However, on 3 June 1991, the head of government was forced to step down and public places were taken by force by the Algerian army, which opened fire on the demonstrators.

On 30 June 1991, Abbassi Madani was arrested at the headquarters of his party by DRS (Department of Intelligence and Security) agents and brought before an examining magistrate by a military court accused of “harming State security” and “the good functioning of the national economy”.  Abbassi Madani’s lawyers contested the well-foundedness of the proceedings and the regularity of the investigation carried out by a military magistrate linked to the prosecution.

In the first round of legislative elections of 26 December 1991, a majority of seats were won by FIS candidates, and the day after the official results, the military prosecutor had told the defense lawyers of his intention to stop proceedings against Abbassi Madani.  But on 12 January 1992, the President of the Republic “resigned” and the legislative elections were cancelled.  Then, on 9 February, a state of emergency was proclaimed; in March, FIS was banned; and on 15 July 1991, the Blida military court, in Abbassi Madani’s absence, condemned him to 12 years of criminal imprisonment.  The appeal was rejected by the Supreme Court on 15 February 1992, making the penal sentence final.

During his detention at Blida military prison, Abbassi Madani was subjected many times to mistreatment and exceptionally severe measures, and despite his worrying state of health, he underwent a long period of solitary confinement and was forbidden to receive visits from his lawyers and his family.

Following negotiations with the military authorities in June 1995, he was at first transferred to a residence reserved for high dignitaries visiting Algeria, but, not having agreed to renounce his political rights, he was once again imprisoned for two years in Blida prison in exceptionally severe conditions.  Freed on 15 July 1997 on condition that he “submit himself to the laws in force in the event that he should wish to leave the national territory”, he was placed under house arrest with an absolute ban on leaving his apartment in Algiers.  He was notified verbally of his house arrest by DRS agents.  He was not permitted to make contact with a lawyer or to take any legal action against this house arrest which was never communicated in writing.

In July 2003, on the completion of 12 years of detention, the house arrest was lifted and Abbassi Madani left Algeria shortly afterwards.  He had spent more than 24 years of his life in prison, including seven from 1954 to 1962 in colonial jails following his participation in the launching of the armed insurrection on 1 November 1954.

 

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