Translated and edited by: Committee for Justice
Geneva: November 23, 2021
UN experts have expressed their concerns about the disappearance and the allegations of kidnapping and deportation of an Algerian national recognized as a refugee in Tunisia, Slimane Bouhafs, who was forcibly transferred to Algeria and charged with terrorist crimes in connection with his activities as an activist belonging to the Amazigh people of the Kabylie region, a minority in Algeria.
Imprisonment for freedom of expression:
In a memorandum sent to the governments of Algeria and Tunisia, on September 20, 2021, the experts said that in September 2016, the Court of Appeal in Setif sentenced Bouhafs to 3 years in prison for social media posts that could have been judged as “undermining the Islamic religion and the Prophet Mohamed”. He was granted a presidential pardon in April 2018, after which he left the country to settle in Tunisia and applied for political asylum.
The experts added that on 25 August 2021, the Buhafs family reportedly noticed his absence since he no longer answered their messages or calls, amid alerts from his neighbors that three individuals in civilian clothes had come to his house, and violently transported him in a black van bearing foreign plates with a travel bag. His family had lodged a complaint with the police regarding his disappearance, but the police reportedly denied to the lawyer that a complaint was filed.
Experts stated that Buhafs was subjected to many threats via social media and by phone from Algerian phone numbers, and it was said that a car registered in Algeria followed him to his home in Tunis in February 2021, while in May 2020 a group of armed men followed him to his home.
Forced transfer to Algeria after kidnapping and threats:
The experts also conveyed information from the media that Mr. Bouhafs was forcibly transferred to Algeria on the evening of August 28, 2021, and was detained in a police station in Algiers on August 29, without having had any contact with his family and without legal assistance.
On September 1, 2021, he was reported to have appeared before the Public Prosecutor of the Court of Sidi Mohamed in Algiers, who placed him in pretrial detention for 6 counts of terrorism offenses.
Bouhafs was reportedly transferred to Koléa prison, where he is currently held in temporary detention incommunicado without access to the care necessary for his health problems, as he suffers from inflammatory rheumatism, gout and heart problems which would require medication and appropriate health care.
The experts expressed their deep concern about the circumstances of which Bouhafs was allegedly kidnapped from his home, forcibly transferred from Tunis to Algiers, without any official or judicial procedure, as well as forcibly disappeared for four days, until he reappeared at the police station in Algiers the capital. The experts stressed that such allegations, if confirmed, would constitute a violation of Algeria’s international obligations.
UN demands from Algeria:
The experts called on the Algerian government to provide detailed information on the factual and legal basis for the incommunicado detention of Bouhafs in Algeria, as well as any official charges brought against him, the legal provisions used to indict him, and clarification of any measures that could have been taken in cooperation with the Tunisian government to arrest and transfer Bouhafs and provide information relating to a possible international arrest warrant which could have been issued against him, before his arrest.
The experts also called on Algeria to provide detailed information on the period between 25 and 29 August 2021, during which Bouhafs was allegedly subjected to enforced disappearance, including his whereabouts and the circumstances in which he was allegedly kidnapped, detained and subsequently returned to Algeria despite his refugee status in Tunisia.
The experts also requested detailed information on any remedy available to Buhafs and his family in relation to the alleged enforced disappearance, any measures taken to investigate alleged acts of intimidation and reprisals against his family, as well as measures taken to identify, punish and protect those responsible, and the measures in place to allow him to obtain the medical care he needs, taking into account his health problems.
The experts also demanded to provide information on the reasons for bringing charges related to terrorism crimes and belonging to a terrorist organization against Bouhafs, and to clarify how this would not conflict with Algeria’s obligations to combat terrorism in accordance with international law.