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Algeria: effort to dissolve an important civic association



The dissolution of the RAJ would be a new low for freedom of association in Algeria

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BEIRUT, Lebanon, October 11, 2021 / APO Group / –

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Algerian authorities should abandon their efforts to dissolve a large civil society group for alleged violations of the law on associations, five international human rights organizations said today. An administrative court is due to rule on October 13, 2021 in a case brought by the Ministry of the Interior against the Rassemblement Action Jeunesse (RAJ).

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The Bir Mourad Rais court in Algiers examined a request on September 29 to dissolve the RAJ, claiming that the group’s “political” activities violated the objectives set out in its own statutes. RAJ leaders deny the accusation and claim that authorities have targeted the association because of its support for the pro-democracy movement Hirak, which began in 2019.

The five human rights groups are Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the International Federation for Human Rights and the MENA Rights Group.

“Seeking to ban one of the main civil society associations on spurious grounds is yet another attempt to crush the Hirak,” said Eric Goldstein, interim director for the Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch. “This decision comes amid the ongoing arbitrary arrests and prosecutions of activists and journalists, and raids on demonstrators. “

Algerian security forces have regularly cracked down on individuals and groups associated with the Hirak protest movement, which has mobilized large numbers of demonstrators since February 2019. Demonstrators, demanding democratic reforms, continued to take to the streets after the resignation of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April 2019 and Abdelmadjid Tebboune succeed him seven months later, following a contested election.

The RAJ was created in 1992 to “promote cultural activities, human rights and the values ​​of citizenship”, according to its statutes. He became known for his local popular mobilization among Algerian youth.

RAJ openly supported the Hirak; its headquarters have become a place of meeting and debate for activists. In 2019, the RAJ co-founded the Pact for a Democratic Alternative, a collective of opposition parties, civil society groups, trade unionists, lawyers and intellectuals. The Pact rejected Tebboune’s election and called for deep reform of state institutions. Authorities have prosecuted 11 of its members, imprisoning at least nine of its leaders and activists for speech offenses on several occasions since 2019 and have banned some of its activities, such as a summer school in August 2019.

“The dissolution of the RAJ would be a new low for freedom of association in Algeria,” said Nadège Lahmar, researcher on the Maghreb at the Institute for Human Rights Studies in Cairo (CIHRS). “By targeting a youth organization supporting the Hirak, the authorities seek to silence independent and peaceful voices. “

On May 26, RAJ announced that it had been informed of a petition presented by the Interior Ministry to an administrative court asking for the group to be dissolved. The petition claims the group had engaged in activities “different from those for which it was created”, that it “initiated and carried out suspicious activities with strangers”, “helped incite citizens to rally together without authorization “and” adopted strategies of a political nature with the aim of creating chaos and disturbing public order.

“The Interior Ministry’s accusation that RAJ violated the law is based on the daily public activities RAJ carried out during the Hirak, such as forums, debates and citizens’ initiatives… alongside millions of Algerians in order to find a unifying and consensual outcome. of the crisis, ”RAJ president Abdelouahab Fersaoui told Human Rights Watch.

The Algerian law on associations of 2012 provides in its article 43 that the authorities can request a court decision to dissolve an association “when it carries out activities other than those provided for in its statutes”. The government petition also cites article 13, which stipulates that “associations are distinct from political parties, by their objectives, name and functioning, and cannot maintain any type of relationship with them”. The authorities claim that the group “adopted strategies of a political nature” by maintaining relations with two opposition political parties, called and participated in marches in 2019, and chanted slogans demanding a “democratic and free Algeria”. The petition also claims that the RAJ constitutes a “danger to national sovereignty, state foreign policy and public order and security”.

Article 2 of the Law on Associations stipulates that the objectives of an association “must be in the general interest and not be contrary to national foundations and values ​​or to public order and morality”. These provisions are worded too vaguely to allow associations to reasonably predict whether any of their activities constitute a crime, and the provisions threaten the exercise of freedom of expression and association, Human Rights Watch said.

The petition also argues that the group violated article 23 of the law, which provides that cooperation with international and foreign associations must “respect national values ​​and fundamentals” and “require the prior approval of the competent authorities”. The petition accuses the group of having met representatives of Amnesty International and the Tunisian League for Human Rights.

The legal provisions used by the Algerian authorities to demand the dissolution of the RAJ are incompatible with the right to freedom of association, Human Rights Watch said. Associations should be free to determine their statutes and activities and to make decisions without state interference and should not face the ultimate sanction of dissolution for legal and peaceful activities. They should be free to engage in relationships with foreign entities subject to reasonable disclosure laws, but without prior government approval.

The petition cites as “evidence of political activities” a 2019 television program in which RAJ President Fersaoui expressed support for arrested politicians, and a political debate on Facebook in which Fersaoui criticized the crackdown on Hirak activists and called for the resumption of street protests after Covid. -19 related public health restrictions are lifted.

Fersaoui was arrested on October 10, 2019 during a sit-in in solidarity with the Hirak detainees, and charged with “undermining the integrity of the national territory”. He was sentenced to one year in prison in April 2020 and released a month later, after his sentence was reduced on appeal. The government cited Fersaoui’s prosecution and conviction as evidence that RAJ is carrying out illegal activities.

In 2019 and 2020, several prominent members of the RAJ, including its founder Hakim Addad, were arrested during the Hirak marches, and prosecuted for “illegal assembly” and “undermining the integrity of the national territory”. On June 22, a court in Sidi Mhamed acquitted these activists – Djalal Mokrani, Hakim Addad, Kamel Ouali, Hmimi Bouider and Massi Aissousse – of the charges against them.

In another case, the Sidi Mhamed court on July 8 sentenced Addad in absentia to one year in prison for “inciting an unarmed rally” and other charges, based on online publications supporting the Hirak movement.

Human Rights Watch has documented in the past how Algerian authorities have used the law on associations to suppress the right to free association. In February 2018, authorities closed the offices of two women’s rights groups in Oran, a city west of Algiers, on the grounds that they were not legally registered, even though the two associations have declared having filed a registration request.

In May 2012, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association called the law on associations “a step backwards”.

Article 52 of the Algerian constitution guarantees the right to free association, as does article 10 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that Algeria ratified in 1989.

“The Algerian authorities’ petition to dissolve the RAJ is an alarming indicator of their determination to further suppress independent activism and suppress the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” said Amna Guellali, Deputy Director for Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International. “The authorities should repeal Algeria’s repressive law on associations rather than using it to crush dissent. “

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