Algerian authorities have imposed arbitrary travel bans on at least three activists from the Algerian diaspora, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reported today. Although one of the three was finally allowed to leave on May 5, 2022 after it was blocked for three months, the authorities must immediately lift the bans on the other two.
Between January and April, authorities barred at least three Algerian-Canadians, only one of whom was charged, from returning to their homes in Canada and questioning them about their ties to Hirak, a mass protest movement calling for political change. Lazar Zuaymiya, Hajira Belkasem and a third person, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said they had not been informed of any legal grounds for travel restrictions, making them difficult to challenge in court. Travel bans are the latest tactic in dispersing Algerians suspected of criticizing the government or participating in protests.
“It is appalling that the Algerian authorities are preventing activists from returning to their country of residence without even providing a legal basis for this refusal or written justification,” said Amna Guellali, deputy director for Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa. “All arbitrary travel bans must be lifted immediately.”
On February 19 and again on April 9, border police prevented 56-year-old Lazar Zuaymia, a member of Amnesty International in Canada who works as a technician in Quebec’s state power plant, from boarding a plane to Montreal.
During the April attempt at Huari Boumediene Airport in Algeria, Zouamia was accompanied by two Canadian embassy officials and his lawyer. An Algerian law enforcement officer took Zuamia aside and kept him in the airport office for hours, then released him. Authorities also banned Zuaymiya from boarding another flight the same day to Barcelona.
Following Zuami’s earlier attempt to leave Algeria in February, a court initially charged him with terrorism and then changed the charge to “damaging the integrity of the national territory,” a vague accusation widely used by the authorities to punish Hirak peace activists. He spent five weeks in custody until a court temporarily released him from trial.
One of Zuaymiya’s lawyers, Abdel Khalim Hayredin, said that the clerk of Constantine’s court, where the criminal case is being conducted, told Hayredin that the court did not impose any restrictions on his client’s departure.
The report on the release of Zuamiya from the General Directorate of Prisons and Rehabilitation, considered by Amnesty International, does not indicate that he is banned from leaving by a court decision.
On April 13, another Zuamiyah’s lawyer filed a request with the Algerian Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate whether another court had imposed a travel ban on him, but as of April 29, he had not received a response.
When Zuamiya tried to leave in February, law enforcement officers in plainclothes detained him at Constantine Airport. A judicial police officer at the airport told Zuaymiya to give away his phone without showing him the prosecutor’s order. Zuamiya gave the officer his phone, which was not password protected.
Police then transferred Zuamiya to military barracks in Constantine. They questioned him about his involvement in Montreal in the Hirak protest movement and his alleged links to the Mare Self-Determination Movement (MAK) and the opposition political movement Rachad. Authorities used widespread allegations of terrorism to criminalize the activities of the two political organizations, declaring them “terrorists.”
On February 22, a judge of the Constantinople court ruled to detain Zuamiya on charges of praising and financing a terrorist organization under Article 87 bis of the Criminal Code. Zuaymiya was paroled on March 30. On April 6, a judge of the same court changed the charge under Article 79 of the Criminal Code to “damage to the integrity of the national territory.” His trial is scheduled for May 31. Authorities did not return his phone.
Zuamiya was finally able to leave Algeria and return to Canada on 5 May.
In another case, 52-year-old Hajira Belkasem left for Algeria on January 19. On February 25, border police at Huari Boumedienne airport prevented her from leaving the country for Montreal. Belkasem told Human Rights Watch that she was not involved in Hirak, but is known as an activist among Algerians living in Montreal. Law enforcement officers in plainclothes at the airport interrogated her and held her for several hours.
Belkasem was then transferred to the Algerian National Police headquarters for re-examination. There, police asked about her alleged links to the Hirak and Rachad protests, as well as the Association for the Burial of Muslims in Quebec (l’Association de la Sépulture musulmane au Québec), a charity she founded in Canada. She was released at 2:30 the next morning, she told Human Rights Watch.
Belkasem hired a lawyer who found no charges against her. He contacted the prosecutor of the Dar Beida court in Algeria to ask about the travel ban, but received no answer, she said on May 3.
Belkasem has been living in Canada with his family for 16 years and works as a childcare educator.
On February 10, border police at Algeria airport prevented a third person from boarding the plane, asking him not to be identified. He was transferred to a police station in Algeria, where he was interrogated at the counter-terrorism department about his family, personal relationships and whether he was collecting money for the maintenance of Hirak. Police then released him without saying there were charges against him.
On March 24, in response to a request from his lawyer, a court of first instance in the eastern city of Setif issued a notice reviewing Amnesty International confirming that there was no official travel ban against him. He is waiting for more information from his lawyer before trying to leave the country again.
Earlier, plainclothes law enforcement officers arrested him on January 28 along with his brother on a street in Setif. Officers took the men to an unknown location, where security officials questioned him for several hours about Hirak, his personal finances and the reasons for protesting against political change in Algeria. The two men were released later that day, but he was again summoned for questioning to the Setif Central Police Station on January 29 and 30.
“Algerian authorities are using arbitrary travel bans as a means of pressuring diaspora activists in Canada and other countries,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy director for Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. “These unjustified measures put Algerians from the diaspora who go home to a difficult situation without clear legal means.”
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Amnesty International.
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