Algeria / Political prisoner forced to wear islamic veil in exchange of medical care

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Dozens of political prisoners are being unlawfully held in Algerian prisons.

The Algerian Ministry of Justice reacted, on Saturday (August 31st), to the charge made by the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD) concerning the conditions of detention of Tizi-Ouzou APW elected RCD representative, Samira Messouci, incarcerated at El Harrach prison for brandishing the Amazigh flag.

In a statement issued Thursday, the CNLD denounced the conditions of detention of the prisoners of conscience, and said that Samira Messouci was forced to wear the veil to receive care in detention. This is confirmed by her family who is part of the CNLD. The information was widely relayed by the media and shared on social networks.

“The relentlessness of the prison administration goes so far as to prohibit the wearing of the Kabyle robe and the ‘amendil’ scarf that goes with it, which she had chosen herself upon the insistence of the administration to impose on her to wear the veil on the day of her judgment in the court of Sidi M’hamed, thus undermining, once again, her conviction and freedom of choice”, says the CNLD.

Samira Messouci

In a press release sent to the official news agency (APS), the Ministry of Justice denied this information and said “Media has published in their news of August 29 and 31, 2019, information that Mrs. Samira Messouci in detention in El Harrach Prison, was deprived of medical treatment, wearing a traditional dress (Kabyle dress and amendil), and that the wearing of a veil was imposed on her (…) These are facts that have been exposed after being taken out of context and amplified to achieve other goals than those showcased”. It further adds that “the wearing of the traditional dress and the non-wearing of the veil is one of the individual freedoms guaranteed to all and no detention center can impose other rules”.

However, it admits a few lines later that “All that was asked of Mrs. Samira Messouci was to cover her head during the passage in front of the wing reserved for men during her transfer to the court”, which in itself constitutes an attack on her individual freedom.

It should be recalled that many activists have been detained for several weeks for the simple reason of having brandished the Amazigh flag during demonstrations. The army’s chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, had unilaterally banned protesters from publicly displaying their cultural heritage in a speech that has since become a weekly event; following the army chief’s speech, the police started enforcing his directive without taking into account the laws of the country which in no way prohibit the display of flags other than the national flag. Most Algerians have seen in this ban an a diversion attempt by the regime engineered to divide the ongoing pro-democracy movement.

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