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Algeria deports HRW official, veteran journalist for observing protests

The HRW official has previously faced legal troubles in Morocco [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 August, 2019

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Human Rights Watch official Ahmed Benchemsi has previously faced trial in Morocco for his work as a journalist.

Algerian authorities deported a Human Rights Watch official on Monday, the organisation said.

Ahmed Benchemsi, HRW's communications and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa, was detained on 9 August while he was observing the 25th consecutive Friday protest in the capital Algiers, the organisation said in a statement on Tuesday.

Demonstrations broke out across the country in February, calling on former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to drop his bid for a fifth term as president. The ailing leader eventually resigned in April but the weekly protests have persisted as Algerians attempt to solidify a democratic transition.

The human rights organisation's director decried his detention and deportation, saying that his "mistreatment is a sobering reminder of the risks faced every day by Algerian human rights defenders exposing and reporting on government abuses."

Benchemsi had traveled to Algeria at the beginning of the month to monitor human rights developments in the North African nation for the human rights organisation.

The Moroccan is also a professional journalist.

Algerian authorities held Benchemsi for ten hours upon his detention, during which he was not allowed to contact anyone, HRW said.

The police also confiscated his mobile phone and laptop, and ordered him to provide the passwords to unlock both devices, the organisation alleged.

They also confiscated his passport.

Four days after releasing him, the authorities summoned Benchemsi to a police station, where police again demanded he handover the passwords for his electronic devices.

When he refused, the police told the HRW official to come back the next day.

After returning twice more before the police in the presence of a lawyer, the authorities ultimately told Benchemsi to the Police Brigade for Foreigners, where officials told him he would soon be deported.

The police never told Benchemsi of any charges against him, nor did they present a search warrant, the human rights organisation said. The authorities also did not provide him with any legal reason for his deportation. 

Benchemsi was put on a flight to Casablanca, Morocco, on Tuesday and given back his passport and electronic devices.

"Ahmed Benchemsi was in Algiers simply doing his job observing human rights conditions," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said. "His arbitrary arrest and mistreatment send the message that authorities don't want the world to know about the mass protests for more democracy in Algeria."

Benchemsi has previously faced legal troubles in his home country Morocco for his role as founder and publisher of the French- and Arabic-language magazines TelQuel and Nishan, both of which were extremely critical of the monarchical system and Islamists in the country. 

The veteran journalist has faced trial for "disrespecting the king" and was ultimately forced to close Nishan and quit his role at TelQuel.

Since quitting TelQuel in 2010, Benchemsi has lived and worked in the United States.

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