The recent police brutality against the resurgent Hirak protest movement is one manifestation of the Presidency’s increasing loss of control, as it hits out irrationally against its own people, with inestimable damage to Algeria’s overseas reputation.
In a bizarre and desperate attempt to punish the millions of Algerians who have not fallen in line with President Tebboune and his ‘new Algeria’, justice minister Belkacem Zeghmati introduced an absurd bill. It will enable the government to revoke the nationality of any Algerian ‘who commits, outside the national territory, acts deliberately causing serious damage to the interests of the state or which undermine national unity’.
Any of the 5-10 million expatriate Algerians who air critical views on social media or elsewhere could theoretically be made stateless. It would also apply to anyone who assists, joins or finances a regime-defined terrorist organisation and anyone who collaborates with an enemy state. In reality the majority of the Algerian diaspora left the country to escape the regime and its disastrous policies.
The bill stems from two fundamental errors. One is the regime’s belief in its own propaganda. The Presidency and its intelligence services have tried to convince themselves and the outside world that the Hirak is not an indigenous movement but orchestrated by overseas enemies. Top of this list is the Rachad movement but, by trying to brandish it as the enemy and the spiritual successor of the former Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), are both completely false.
The regime fears Rachad for two reasons. Many victims of repression turn to it for help, support and advice. Rachad has a massive social media network through which it counters the regime’s propaganda and provides Algerians with the truth of what is going on. Because Rachad is based abroad — in the UK, Switzerland and France — the regime can do very little to silence it. That is the regime’s second big mistake: instead of addressing the message, it is pre-occupied with attacking the messenger.
On 21 March the regime issued an international warrant against four prominent Rachad figures, on the grounds that they were terrorists, or had been assisting and financing an as yet unspecified terrorist organisation. The absurdity of the charges is a further manifestation of the regime’s desperation to rid itself of its critics and those determined to end the country’s 59 years of misrule and start again on the road to independence through a second republic.
It was hardly coincidental that the warrants were issued a day before France’s President Emmanuel Macron promulgated the new extradition agreement between France and Algeria, concluded in January 2019. According to its Article 4 offences related to military or political issues are not extraditable. However, attacks on the life or physical integrity of a head of state or a member of his family, as well as terrorist offenses, do not fall within the political sphere. This explains the regime’s trumped-up charges claiming that the four men belong to a terrorist group.
The four are:
- Mohamed Larbi Zitout, a leading Rachad figure, citizen and resident of the UK;
- Amir Boukhors, a blogger known as ‘Amir DZ’;
- Hichem Aboud, journalist and author of the explosive book La mafia des généraux (The Mafia of Generals), published in France 2001; and
- Mohamed Abdellah, a former gendarme who lives in Alicante, Spain, from where he regularly posts videos castigating Algerian power.
The extradition of the 57-year-old Zitout has no chance of success because the former diplomat took refuge in the UK in 1994, has British citizenship, and the status of political refugee, which protects him from being extradited. Moreover, the Algerian court has no evidence for the charges that the regime has concocted. Zitout is a major threat to the regime because of his huge social media following as well as his regular highly articulate and explanatory radio and TV broadcasts on the situation, especially into the Arab and Francophone worlds.
Amir Boukhors has already been released by the French courts following seven arrest warrants served against him by the regime in 2019. His current status in France does not protect him from extradition; neither does that of Aboud or Abdellah.
However, there is very long way to go before the point of possible extradition is reached. Besides numerous legal obstacles, the terrorism charges are fabricated and without credible evidence. Moreover, and perhaps most important of all, Algeria’s recent fallouts with the European Parliament and UN over its current abuses of human rights make it very clear that, if they are extradited, the men will not receive a fair trial in Algeria.