The danger of restrictions on freedom of expression and the deterioration of human rights continues to weigh in Algeria. The death of an Algerian prisoner of conscience because of a Facebook post has sparked anger in the country which has experienced an authoritarian turn and amplified repression under the regime of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
Hakim Debbazi, a 55-year-old Algerian citizen, was arrested on February 20 in Hadjout, a small town in the coastal region of Tipaza, 70 kilometers west of Algiers. He had been in pre-trial detention in Koléa prison (Tipaza) since his arrest without charge, for posts on his Facebook page deemed harmful to the national interest. Debbazi was announced dead on Sunday in mysterious conditions. He was the father of three children.
The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) indicated that a request for the provisional release of Debbazi, introduced a few weeks ago because of his “worrying state of health”was dismissed by the court.
Hakim Debbazi was arrested by Algerian authorities for posting pro-Hirak content, the anti-system movement (which was described as “blessed” by President Tebboune) on his Facebook account. Debbazi’s account, which is still online, features pro-Hirak statements and anti-regime videos produced by Algerians living abroad.
The activist was abusively arrested and imprisoned without right to trial for Facebook posts despite having only 91 friends on his account.
Debbazi’s death has heightened feelings of anger and injustice among many Algerians, who hold the Algerian state ultimately responsible for the activist’s death. Algerians, touched and outraged by this unjust death, are now calling for the release of the remaining prisoners of conscience, estimated at around 300 in this country which has made an authoritarian turn since the accession to power of Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
The Algerian president managed to rise to power at the end of 2019, following the Hirak movement, without any support from the people who twice boycotted the presidential elections pushed by the army. The Algerian authorities deny the existence of prisoners of conscience in the country.
” How did we get here… Dying in jail for a post or an opinion. I am sad for my country. The new Algeria of the change promised by the power is a decoy “wrote Saïd Salhi, vice-president of the LADDH, on his Facebook page.
Political figures, such as the president of the Movement for Society and Peace (MSP), Abderrazak Makri, the vice-president of Jil Jadid, Zoheir Rouis, the lawyer Zoubida Assoul, president of the Union for Change and Progress , or even Karim Tabbou, coordinator of the Democratic and Social Union, all expressed their anger and called on the authorities to shed light on the circumstances of Hakim Debbazi’s death.
Karim Tabbou thus reveals that “Authorities have told his family that Hakim died of cardiac arrest due to severe respiratory impairment”. For him, the “power remains and will remain the one and only responsible for his death”.
Last year, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune expanded Algeria’s definition of “terrorism” in Article 87 to also include “to work for, or induce by any means whatsoever, to gain power or change the system of governance by unconstitutional means ” and of “harming the integrity of the national territory or inciting it, by any means whatsoever”.
Since the creation of this article, the authorities have used it to prosecute a growing number of activists, journalists and human rights defenders.