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Baba Mohamed Nedjar: flimsy evidence at the heart of a political trial

Baba Mohamed Nedjar repeatedly observed hunger strikes, the longest of which lasted 110 days, to demand a fair trial after being found guilty for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment back in 2005. For many, Baba Mohamed Nedjar was the victim of revenge for refusing to sign off a false testimony against late activist Dr. Kamaeleddine Fekhar who too was incarcerated arbitrarily and passed away while in custody. Baba Mohamed Nedjar is considered to be the longest serving political prisoner in the country.

Baba Mohamed Nedjar, a 22-year-old resident of Ghardaia, is a member of the Mozabite minority (Amazigh minority). Prior to his arrest he was an activist and defender of the rights of Mozabites. A father of three children, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in a case of murder without evidence.

His arrest followed the murder of Brahim Bazine, head of Ghardaia’s Red Crescent and former activist of the FFS opposition party. Bazine was burnt alive and remained two days in intensive care before passing away. While in intensive care he described his assailants as two hooded men who ran off on mopeds after setting him on fire.

Back in 2005, the security services kept Baba Mohamed Nedjar in pre-trial detention for 10 days at which point he was allegedly tortured and asked to testify against late Dr. Kameleddine Fekhar, according to his lawyer Salah Dabouz. When Baba Mohamed Nedjar refused to testify against Fekhar, he was told that he would be paying a heavy price. According to his lawyer, his torturers told him that he would have to testify that it is actually Fekhar who had committed the murder. Upon his refusal, he was told he would spend the rest of his life behind bars.

As far as the investigation goes, the evidence based upon by the prosecutor was flimsy at best. The evidence consists of brochures of the FFS opposition political party found at his house and the testimony of the victim’s son, who at the time was a minor, declaring to have seen Baba Mohamed Nedjar 3 days earlier not far from the mosque adjacent to their house. To be more precise, the son had testified that it was two friends of his that had seen Baba Mohamed Nedjar in the area. These witnesses subsequently retracted their statements. It is based on this circumstantial evidence that the judge had made the life imprisonment decision. The prosecutor had requested the death penalty.

“This witness is the same one in a similar case. His testimony turned out to be false and those convicted following his testimony were released”, one of his lawyers, Salah Dabouz, explained at the time.

Salah Dabouz was part of a legal team consisting one 12 lawyers. Upon his sentencing, his legal team stated “there is no motive, no tangible proof of the crime, no witness. How can you judge on the basis of clues alone?”.

Baba Mohamed Nedjar’s alibi was also dismissed by the court without reason. His dad, uncle, and other family members had stated that he was with them at the other end of town, in the city of Zelfana about 60Kms of Ghardaia, while the deadly assault was taking place.

Furthermore, the victim’s eldest son brought a troubling element to the case, stating that his father had many enemies: “There was a serious conflict between the regional authorities and the local Red Crescent commission. My father’s vehicle had been set on fire six months earlier, but no investigation was launched. One of the people, who was in conflict with my father, even made threats against him, swearing that he will suffer the same fate as his vehicle”.

During the proceedings, Baba Mohamed Nedjar had stated “I went to the police station as soon as I found the summons, and there I am not asked about the victim or anything, I am asked if I am an FFS activist and if I know its federation’s officials. They even came to my cell to offer me an acquittal against the indictment of these leaders”.

According to lawyer Salah Dabouz, another piece of evidence used to convict the activist was a petrol can found at his home, later determined by the police’s own expertise to be different in substance from the petrol used to murder the victim.

Today he has already spent 15 years in prison, and from his prison he calls for the reopening of his case for a fair trial.

Baba Mohamed Nedjar’s case is yet another instance of the regime’s long-running demonisation and repression of the native Mozabite ethnic and religious minority. A minority subjected to state racism for decades. They are unofficially barred from taking up political positions, their traditional and ancestral structures such as the Mausoleum of Ami Said have been destroyed, and their people stereotyped as merchants.

There could be light at the end of the tunnel as awareness of the Mozabites’ cause increased over the past years. Women have joined the fight and are now speaking up to defend their rights, activists from different backgrounds, doctors, lawyers, professors and from different perspectives, secular, religious or atheists are joining this struggle for freedom.

This article was written by Dr. Nabila Bahamida.