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HRW: Algerian labor rights defender convicted for facebook video

08 June 2016

An Algerian court sentenced a labor rights defender to six months in prison on May 25, 2016, for posting a video on Facebook criticizing a prison term for a colleague.

Belkacem Khencha, national coordinator of the Algerian League for the Defense of Workers’ Rights, criticized the first instance court in the city of Laghouat for sentencing his colleague to 18 months for protesting the government’s housing policies. The same court convicted Khencha.

"Algerian courts are not only convicting people who participate in peaceful labor protests," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. «Now they’re punishing people who protest against such unfair convictions."

On January 28, 2015, authorities arrested Khencha and seven other members of the National Committee for the Defense of Unemployed Workers’ Rights (Comité national pour la défense des droits des chômeurs, CNDDC), another labor rights’ group, when they assembled outside the Laghouat court to protest the trial of Mohamed Rag, another CNDDC activist arrested eight days earlier. On February 11, 2015, the court sentenced the eight to a year in prison, half of it suspended, for an "unauthorized gathering" and "attempting to pressure judges on pending cases" under articles 97 and 147, respectively, of the penal code. Khencha spent six months in prison. Rag, who was sentenced to 18 months, remains in prison.

After his release, Khencha filmed himself talking and posted the video on Facebook on August 20. In it, he explains that he is sitting in front of Rag’s house, and that, "We should not forget Rag’s case because he is unjustly sentenced and jailed."

The Algerian authorities rely on an arsenal of repressive laws to quell peaceful dissent. Article 146 of the penal code punishes "insults" against state institutions with up to five years in prison. The punishment for distributing, selling, exposing to the public tracts, bulletins, or flyers that "may harm the national interest" is up to three years, and for defaming or insulting the president, up to one year.

Adapted from the Human Rights Watch

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