Algeria investigates defection to France of prominent rights activist

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Algerian authorities have detained and charged several people as part of an investigation into how rights activist Amira Bouraoui defied a travel ban and arrived in France, causing a diplomatic row between the two countries, which had been working on repairing ties.

The Geneva-based Global initiative against transnational organised crime (GI-TOC) said Wednesday that senior analyst Raouf Farrah, along with his father Sebti Farrah, and seven other people, had appeared in court over the weekend after being held in custody.

The arrests were made as part of Algeria’s investigation into how Amira Bouraoui had defied a travel ban and went to France via Tunisia.

Leaving Algeria

A Franco-Algerian doctor, Bouraoui was a prominent figure in the 2014 protest movement against then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fourth term in office. She was also involved in the Hirak protest movement that resulted in the army removing Bouteflika from power in 2019.

She was sentenced in June 2020 to a year in prison for organising protests as well as “offending Islam” and insulting the president.

Granted provisional release the following month, pending an appeal, she was subsequently banned from leaving Algeria.

Earlier this month, on 3 February, Bouraoui was arrested in Tunisia and faced deportation back to Algeria, but flew to France using her French passport three days later, on 6 February.

Algeria accused France of assisting her departure, calling it a “clandestine and illegal exfiltration” in an official statement soon after the incident.

It recalled its ambassador to France, said Moussi, over the incident, which again raised tensions after another diplomatic incident in 2021, and as French President Macron has attempted to address France’s colonial past in Algeria.

‘Criminal network’

Bouraoui said she left Algeria on her own.

“Nobody helped me,” Bouraoui told TV5Monde television. “I just crossed the border in a car.”

But prosecutors on Tuesday said that investigations showed that Bouraoui had left Algeria “illegally and in a planned way with the help of a criminal illegal immigration network” that included a taxi driver and a border guard, with the help of a journalist and relatives, including her mother.

Five people were charged this weekend with associating with criminals and “organising clandestine immigration via an organised criminal network.”

The CNLD prisoners’ rights group said detainees included journalist Mustapha Bendjama, Bouraoui’s cousin Yacine Bentayeb, and Farrah, of the GI-TOC, who was in Algeria visiting his parents, along with his wife and child.

Bouraoui’s 71-year-old mother had also been detained, but was later released under judicial supervision.

The GI-TOC said Farrah was charged with spreading classified information and receiving funds to “disturb the public peace”, which it said are “without basis”.

Rights groups say Algeria has cracked down on political activists following the Hirak movement.

Last month authorities decided to shut down Algeria’s oldest independent rights group, the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, the international rights group Human Rights Watch said.

(with newswires)

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