Algeria: UN concerned about sexual assault and arbitrary arrests against protesters
Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice
Geneva: October 5, 2021
UN experts have expressed their concerns about allegations of sexual assault, torture and ill-treatment of a protester at a Hirak demonstration, and the subsequent threats and arrests of five activists linked to the case; among them are Ayoub Chahetou, Nabil Bousekkine, and Sami Dernouni.
Sexual assaults and impartial investigation:
In a memorandum sent to the Algerian government on August 4, 2021, the 15-year-old protester, whose identity was concealed for his safety, was arrested by police on April 3, 2021, after his alleged participation in the Hirak demonstration in Algiers. He was subjected to sexual abuse by the security forces, and the Public Prosecutor opened an investigation into the incident.
According to information received, the experts said that he was pushed from his back with a tool only before he was transferred to the police station. He also claimed that he was examined by a forensic doctor and released in accordance with the procedures for the arrest of minors and that the medical examination would have determined that “the victim would have refused a medical examination of the external genitalia.”
The experts added that there were allegations by the juvenile judge that there were video clips of the protester’s participation in acts of homosexuality and drug dealing, and even accused the five activists of child sexual abuse, pornography, sex with a minor and exploitation of a minor for political reasons.
The experts reported that, according to what they were told, the five activists linked to the case were arrested, and they appeared before the Sidi Mohamed court in Algiers on April 8, and were remanded in pretrial detention in El Harrach prison in Algiers and had since been awaiting trial, and accused of “leading a criminal gang; spreading false information that harms public order; infringing on the privacy of the child and exploiting him for immoral purposes; undermining national unity, inciting minors to debauchery and possession of narcotics for consumption.” They were deprived of the right to defence.
The experts expressed grave concern over allegations of torture, sexual violence and ill-treatment of peaceful demonstrators, adding that this would discourage them from exercising their right to freedom of expression and any peaceful assembly and that the Public Prosecutor’s statements challenging these allegations and morally accusing the protester are likely to call into question the integrity of the ongoing judicial investigation.
The experts were also concerned about what appears to be a systematic practice of arbitrary and incommunicado detention of Hirak demonstrators, without access to basic fair trial guarantees, including access to a lawyer, contact with family, a medical examination, and the right to be presumed innocent.
UN demands from Algeria:
The experts requested the Algerian authorities to provide information on the legal and factual grounds that justify the arrest, detention and conviction of these activists, including the minor, at the time the facts were presented, as well as the legal and procedural guarantees granted to them as of their arrest and during interrogation and trial, and the results of any investigation, judicial or non-judicial, conducted in relation to allegations of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and sexual assault.
The experts also called on Algeria to explain the legal and factual basis for the restrictions on the right to file a complaint against police officers, including allegations of torture and sexual abuse, as well as on the request for medical expertise, and how these measures comply with Algeria’s obligations under the Convention against Torture, as well as provide any information on measures in place to ensure that alleged perpetrators of reported violations, if proven, are brought to justice, and that reparation is provided to victims and their families.