Amnesty denounces detention of Algerian activists who exposed police torture of boy

Amnesty denounces detention of Algerian activists who exposed police torture of boy
3 min read
22 March, 2022
Amnesty International has strongly condemned Algerian authorities for detaining five activists who exposed the police detention, torture, and attempted rape of a 15-year-old boy in 2021.
The Hirak movement has continued to demand democracy in Algeria following the fall of Abdelaziz Bouteflika [Getty]

Amnesty International has called on Algerian authorities to immediately drop charges against five activists who exposed the torture and attempted rape of a 15-year-old boy detained by police.

The five activists from the Hirak movement, which led protests against former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's attempt to seek a fifth term in 2019, face charges including "publishing fake news", "undermining the private life of a minor child by publishing a picture that may harm the child", and "defaming public institutions and the judiciary".

They were arrested after two of them, Mohamed Tadjadit and Souheib Dabbaghi, posted a video on Facebook last April showing the teenage boy crying uncontrollably while saying he was sexually assaulted by police officers.

"Despite the fact that this video went viral in Algeria, causing outrage over the reports of torture of a child, including attempted rape, the Algerian authorities’ response was to silence the messengers instead of investigating the reports," said Amna Guellali, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"The charges brought against all five are related to their exercise of freedom of expression in publicizing a child’s testimony," she added, saying that Algerian authorities had to release the five activists and "respect their obligations under international law to protect victims and witnesses of torture and other ill-treatment from retaliation".

When the 15-year-old boy was arrested, Tadjadit and Dabbeghi took part in a peaceful protest outside the police station and were waiting outside with other activists when he was released. They then made the video where the child said he was sexually assaulted by police.

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In a later video, the teenager confirmed that police officers tried to rape him, while his mother said that she saw them beating him when she visited the police station.

The five activists were arrested in early April 2021.

Amnesty International said that at a subsequent press conference, the public prosecutor of the appeals court in Algiers which was investigating the child's accusations against police officers tried to discredit his allegations, calling him a "drug user" and making homophobic insinuations about his relationship to the detained activists.

UN special rapporteurs later expressed their alarm at "the statements of the Public Prosecutor questioning these allegations and accusing the child morally", saying that they were "likely to call into question the impartiality of the ongoing judicial investigation".

"The circumstances of the activists' arrests, alongside the prosecutor’s hateful and unsubstantiated accusations, point to this being an act of reprisal for the release of the video," said Amna Guellali.

Amnesty said that in February 2022, the five activists were kicked and beaten by authorities when they started a hunger strike to demand their freedom or to be put on their trial. A trial date has been announced and they have now ended their hunger strike.

Tadjadit, who has been called "the poet of the Hirak", for the poems and speeches he would deliver during Hirak protests, has previously been imprisoned for several months on the charge of "undermining national unity" for his participation in the protests.

Activists have suffered repression from Algerian security forces since the 2019 overthrow of former dictator Abdelaziz Bouteflika.