Algeria / Opposition leader jailed in ‘last-minute trial’ amid pro-democracy activists witch-hunt

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Feared by the military junta in power in Algeria for his large popularity among the population, Karim Tabbou, a political leader arbitrarily imprisoned in September 2019, was sentenced to one year in prison as he was about to be released. This comes after the army-appointed president pardoned his narcotrafficker son, Khaled Tebboune.

The political activist’s trial was scheduled at the last minute, according to his lawyers. After the trial, he was sentenced to one year in prison, which effectively means that he will not be released next Thursday as scheduled initially.

According to lawyer Abdelghani Badi, Tabbou had a blood pressure spike after the judge’s refusal to postpone the appeal trial requested by Sid Ahmed Merrad, a notoriously corrupt prosecutor and a close friend of Belkacem Zeghmati, the justice minister.

“He had a spike in blood pressure which caused his limbs to deform and even, according to those present at the hearing, his mouth to deform. He cannot speak or move. He was taken to the court’s infirmary” said the lawyer in the court hall. Despite this, the trial continued “almost in absentia”, denounced Abdelghani Badi.

The lawyers were not informed of the trial, which meant that they were not present when Tabbou became ill. “When the lawyers arrived, they asked for their client who was in the infirmary to be brought back, but they did not do so because they know that he is in a catastrophic state,” added the lawyer.

“How can you judge a person who has just had a stroke, who cannot speak, who is half-paralyzed? Their intention is to tire him in prison (…) We will go far. We will prosecute this court which has broken the law” he added.

Mostafa Bouchachi, another lawyer in Tabbou’s legal team, tells of a serious slip: “I say there is a serious slippage. Algerian justice has never behaved like this since independence. We will not be silent, we will explain in the coming days all the ins and outs of this case”.

“It is a serious scandal. Citizen Karim Tabbou has been deprived of his right to a fair trial” stated Zoubida Assoul, another of his lawyers.

Karim Tabbou’s brother Djaafar confirmed that his brother was unwell and denounced the fact that his lawyers were denied access to the Court’s infirmary to check on his health.

It was he who gave the alert at around 1 P.M, indicating on social media that the appeal trial of Karim Tabbou was scheduled for today, specifying that none of his lawyers had been informed. “Fortunately, one of the lawyers had the information on the spot and alerted all the other lawyers to join the Ruisseau court”, said the National Committee for the Release of Detainees (CNLD). It was after the Court’s refusal to postpone the trial as requested by the defence that Tabbou became unwell.

Karim Tabbou was arrested on September 11 and imprisoned in Koléa prison. He was released on the 25th of the same month and then arrested the next day following orders emanating from the military hierarchy according to sources close to the case. He was tried on March 4th by the court of Sidi M’hamed and sentenced to one year in prison, six of which were suspended. The trial for his first case was scheduled to take place yesterday, March 23rd, in the Koléa court, but was postponed to April 6th.

Yesterday, in the absence of his lawyers, the detainee’s request for postponement was vehemently rejected by the president of the chamber, sheltering behind “instructions” coming from above. Furthermore, the defence’s request that their client is brought to the bar for the purpose of ensuring his health and ability to sustain a trial was also dismissed by the court.

“Karim Tabbou has just been sentenced on appeal to a year in prison without being able to have a right to a defence in accordance with the provisions of the constitution and the international pact on civil and political rights ratified by Algeria” wrote Nourredine Benissad, the president of the Algerian League of Human Rights, in a statement.

“Karim Tabbou is said to have been unable to endure a trial due to unease. Karim Tabbou was not entitled to a fair trial in accordance with international standards”, Benissad concluded.

This is happening at a time when the country is going through a serious health crisis and when the popular protests have been suspended by the demonstrators.

Analysis

With an army-appointed president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, lacking any form of legitimacy other than on paper, the military junta appears to be taking advantage of the suspension of the pro-democracy protests as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak to settle scores.

Unable to assassinate political opponents like it used to be done in the 90s, the strategy moving forward (which was used in the past) is to mentally torture political opponents in custody to attract a minimum of bad press, so to speak.

Karim Tabbou and Rachid Nekkaz have both been physically and mentally abused in custody according to sources of the Algiers Herald. Karim Tabbou has been held in solitary confinement for that purpose when the country’s laws do not prescribe solitary confinement for such cases.

The other important element observed over the past months, is the fact that the military junta has sought to destroy any potential political structuration of the pro-democracy movement.


Further reading:

https://www.algiersherald.com/human-rights-activist-dies-following-arbitrary-incarceration/

https://www.algiersherald.com/britain-likely-covered-up-murder-of-british-algerian-journalist/