ALGIERS, July 6, 2012 (AFP) -
ALGIERS, July 6, 2012 (AFP) –
An Algerian human rights activist jailed last month but granted a presidential pardon was freed on Friday and immediately condemned the country’s prison system, describing it to AFP as “hellish.”
Mohamed Smain, who was arrested on June 19 to serve a two-month jail term first handed down in 2002 for “slander” against local militias armed to defend villages against Islamist militants, was unrepentant despite being pardoned.
“I accepted my incarceration because it was stronger than me,” said the 70-year-old, reached by telephone, whose pardon this week came as Algeria celebrated 50 years of independence from France.
“My conviction was unjust, illegal and arbitrary, but on the plus side it has made me aware of the situation detainees face in Algeria.
“Prisoners are living in hell: a room for 10 people contains three times as many. There’s so little space that prisoners sleep standing up,” Smain charged.
“That’s not what I have been told — I’ve seen it,” he added, saying that prison does nothing but “debase the human soul.”
In January 2002, Smain was sentenced by a court in the northwestern town of Relizane to two months for “slanderous calumny” after a complaint by a local militia.
The sentence was confirmed by an appeals court in 2007 and by the supreme court in February this year.
Smain had accused the militia, headed by former Relizane mayor Hadj Fergene, of murdering Islamist sympathisers and throwing their bodies into mass graves.
Former members of armed groups testified in Hadj Fergene’s defence, saying the mass graves contained the corpses of people killed by Islamist armed groups.