Amnesty International deplores Algeria’s and Tunisia’s failure to protect refugee rights

Amnesty International deplores Algeria’s and Tunisia’s failure to protect refugee rights

Amnesty International has reiterated its call for the release of an Algerian refugee who was kidnapped from Tunis and indicted in Algiers on bogus charges, in a blatant refoulement case.

Slimane Bouhafs was a peaceful Kabyle independence activist of Christian faith. He obtained refugee status in Tunisia in 2020 to escape political and religious persecution in Algeria. His case is a blatant breach of non-refoulement which bans forced returns of people who might face persecution.

Bouhafs was kidnapped in August 2021 by Algerian secret agents in full sight of Tunisian authorities.

“Under international human rights law, Tunisia has an obligation to protect refugees and to ensure they are not forcibly returned to a country where they face persecution,” Amnesty International said in a letter to President Tebboune demanding the release of Bouhafs.

“I urge you to release Slimane Bouhafs immediately, drop all charges against him and allow him to leave Algeria. In the meantime, the Algerian authorities should ensure that Slimane Bouhafs is not subjected to any ill-treatment in prison,” Amnesty International said.

The UN independent human rights experts had asked the Tunisian and Algerian governments to explain any steps they had taken to transfer Bouhafs from Tunisia to Algeria.

His case highlights the human rights violations risks in Tunisia under pressure of an Algeria that is intent on labelling all dissidents as terrorists.

Fourteen human rights organizations, in addition to Human Rights Watch, have denounced the restrictions imposed by the Algerian authorities on freedoms, calling on the Algerian military regime to stop the violation of basic human rights, respect the universal civil & political rights and allow independent NGOs to operate in the country without harassment.

In reports submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, who is visiting Algeria from 16 to 26 September, the human rights organizations said the Algerian authorities have dismantled the country’s independent civil society and hindered political pluralism based on restrictive laws on associations, political parties, and unions.

Earlier this year, the US State Department decried the use of terrorism charges which has been tailored by Algiers to silence peaceful dissidents as “authorities cited broad provisions under the penal code, including membership in a terrorist organization, to arrest or punish critics including journalists and human rights defenders.”

Cases of torture abound in the “new Algeria” of General Chengriha as the US State Department report cites many cases including that of activist Mohamed Benhalima who was tortured, beaten up, and sexually abused by authorities during his imprisonment. Yet, there has been no official investigation into these degrading treatments.

Benhalima had denounced corruption in the military beginning in 2019 while living in exile in Spain following his participation in the hirak protest movement.

The rise in cases of dissapearances and arbitrary detentions was also highlighted by the US State Department which mentions the ordeal of activist Abdelhamid Bouziza who was kidnapped from his home in Tlemcen on October 19.

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