Algeria: Activists from the diaspora were arbitrarily barred from traveling

(Beirut) – Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today that Algerian authorities have imposed arbitrary travel bans on at least three Algerian activists from the diaspora. Although one of the three persons was allowed to leave on May 5, 2022 after a three-month ban, authorities must immediately lift the ban on the other two.

Between January and April, authorities barred at least three Algerian-Canadian nationals, only one of whom was charged, from returning home to Canada and questioned them about their links to Hirak, a mass protest movement seeking policy changes. Lazhar Zouimiya, Hojeira Belkacem and a third person who requested that his name be withheld for security reasons said they were unaware of any legal basis for travel restrictions, making it difficult to challenge them in court. The travel ban is the latest blow to Algerians suspected of criticizing the government or participating in protests.

“It is shameful that the Algerian authorities are preventing the activists from returning to their place of residence without giving any legal basis or written justification for this refusal,” said Amna Guellali, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa. Amnesty International. “All arbitrary travel bans must end immediately.”

On February 19 and again on April 9, border police prevented Lazhar Zweimiya, 56, a member of Amnesty International Canada who works as a technician at a public power company in Quebec, from boarding a plane to Montreal.

At his attempt in April at Houari Boumediene Airport in Algeria, Zouwemiya was accompanied by two representatives from the Canadian embassy and his lawyer. A security officer picked up Zuweimiya and held him in an airport office for hours, then released him. Authorities also prevented Zoumieh from boarding another flight on the same day to Barcelona.

Following Zouimiya’s previous attempt to leave Algeria in February, a court initially charged him with terrorism and later changed the charge to “compromising the integrity of the nation”, a vague charge widely used by authorities to punished the peaceful activists of the Hiraks. He spent five weeks in custody before the court temporarily released him pending trial.

Abdelhalim Khair El-Din, one of Zouima’s lawyers, said a clerk at the court in Constantinople, where Zouimiya is on trial, told Khair El-Din that the court did not impose any travel restrictions on his client.

The announcement by the General Directorate of Prison Administration and Reintegration of Zouimiya’s release, reviewed by Amnesty International, does not indicate that he is subject to a travel ban by court order.

Another Zouimia’s lawyer filed a request with the Algerian Judicial Council General Prosecutor’s Office on 13 April to verify whether another court had imposed a travel ban on him but received no response by 29 April.

When Zouimiya tried to leave in February, plainclothes security agents stopped him at Constantine Airport. A member of the judicial police at Zweimiya Airport ordered him to hand over the phone without informing him of an order from the prosecution. Zoumieh gave the agent his phone, which was not password protected.

Police then transferred Zoumieh to a military barracks in Constantinople. I asked him about his participation in the movement in Montreal and about his alleged links to the “Movement for Self-Determination in Kabylie” and the opposition political movement “Rashad”. Authorities used extensive terrorism-related allegations to criminalize the activities of the two political organizations, calling them “terrorists.”

On February 22, a judge in a Constantinople court ordered Zouimia’s detention on charges of praising and financing a terrorist organization, under Article 87 bis of the Criminal Code. Zweimiya was temporarily released on March 30. On April 6, a judge in the same court commuted the charge to “compromising the integrity of the homeland” under Article 79 of the Criminal Code. His trial is set for May 31. Authorities did not return the phone.

Eventually, Zouimiya was able to leave Algeria and return to Canada on May 5th.

In another case, Hajira Belkacem, 52, traveled to Algeria on January 19th. On February 25, border police at Houari Boumediene Airport prevented him from leaving the country for Montreal. Belkacem told Human Rights Watch that she did not take part in the movement, but is known as an activist among Algerians living in Montreal. Civilian security officers interrogated him at the airport and detained him for several hours.

Belkacem was then transferred to the National Police headquarters in Algiers for further questioning. Police officers there asked her about her alleged links to the Hirak and Rashad movement, and about the Quebec Muslim Burial Association, a charity she had set up in Canada. She told Human Rights Watch she was released at 2:30 the next morning.

Belkacem appointed a lawyer, but he found no pending charges against her. She said on May 3 that he called the public prosecutor to the Casablanca court in Algiers to ask about the travel ban, but received no response.

Belkacem has been living in Canada with her family for 16 years and works as a children’s teacher.

On February 10, border police at Algiers airport prevented a third person, who requested anonymity, from boarding a plane. He was taken to a police station in Algiers, where he was questioned at the office of the counterterrorism unit about his family, his personal relationship and whether he had raised money to support the movement. The police later released him without informing him of the charges against him.

On March 24, in response to a request from his lawyer, the Court of First Instance in the eastern city of Setif issued a notice, reviewed by Amnesty International, confirming that no formal order had been issued to prevent him from left the country. The third person expects more information from his lawyer before attempting to leave the country again.

The plainclothes security agents had arrested him on January 28, along with his brother, on a Setif street. Officers took the two men to an unknown location, where security officers questioned him for several hours about his movement, his financial situation and the reasons for his protest for political change in Algeria. The two men were released later that day but were summoned for questioning at Setif Central Police Station again on January 29th and 30th.

“Algerian authorities are using arbitrary travel bans to put pressure on immigrant activists in Canada and elsewhere,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy director of Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. “These unjustified measures endanger Algerian migrants returning to visit their country. There are no clear legal remedies.”

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