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The New Arab Staff

Algeria rights group urge probe as more Hirak protesters allege torture during detention

The activists claim they were tortured in detention [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 March, 2021

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Allegations that Algerian activists of a pro-democracy protest movement were tortured in detention have prompted rights groups to demand an urgent probe.
An Algerian human rights group on Thursday called for an investigation after allegations that activists of a pro-democracy protest movement were tortured in detention.

"We ask the public prosecutor's office to act in accordance with the law as soon as there are such revelations," Said Salhi, vice president of the Algerian League for Human Rights (LADDH), told AFP.

Three activists of the Hirak protest movement - Karim Tabbou, Walid Nekkiche and Sami Dernouni - claim they were tortured by the security services.

"The justice system must take responsibility itself by opening a judicial inquiry and a trial," Salhi said.

At his trial on February 1, 25-year-old student Nekkiche said he was "sexually, physically and verbally assaulted" by members of the security services while in police custody.

His harrowing testimony sparked an outcry in the North African county.

The public prosecutor's office later announced the opening of an investigation "with the aim of establishing the truth about what happened".

The move came after media "reactions and commentary" following the student's allegations, the statement added.

It expressed concern for "respect of the freedom and dignity of suspects held in custody".

"I went through hell... I put up with a lot during those 14 months in prison and particularly the six days spent in the Ben Aknoun barracks" in Algiers, French-language daily Liberte reported Nekkiche as saying.

Nekkiche was released in February on time served after being sentenced to six months in prison for "possession and distribution of pamphlets in order to harm the country's interest".

The prosecutor at the Dar El Beida court in Algiers had requested life imprisonment for the student, who was accused of "conspiracy against the state", "undermining national integrity" and "inciting the population to bear arms" - very serious charges under Algerian law.

Tabbou, a prominent Hirak figure who like Nekkiche is no longer in detention, testified on March 4, 2020, that he had suffered violence during his arrest and interrogation in the Antar barracks in Algiers.

Dernouni said during his trial last Tuesday that after his arrest in December he was "stripped naked, beaten, tortured with a taser gun" at the same premises, one of his lawyers, Ali Fellah, was quoted as saying by El Watan newspaper.

The young Hirak activist, who remains in detention, was charged with incitement to gather, undermining national unity and undermining national security.

Read also: On its second anniversary, Algeria's Hirak proves it never went away

During his trial, the prosecutor sought a sentence of 10 years in prison against him. The verdict is expected on March 9.

The Hirak protest movement broke out in February 2019 in outrage at then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term in office.

The ageing strongman was forced to step down weeks later, but the movement continued with twice-weekly demonstrations, demanding sweeping reforms to Algeria's sclerotic institutions.

The rallies were only suspended in March last year as the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Nearly a year later, Algerians flooded the streets on February 22 to mark the movement's second anniversary. Since, protests have continued despite coronavirus lockdown orders.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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