Algeria faces an avalanche of criticism over Human Rights after the death of one of the country’s most prominent dissidents.
Rabat – While on the streets of Algiers the Algerian political establishment faces its most serious popular challenge in decades, the death of Kamel Eddine Fekhar, a prominent dissident, has dealt a serious blow to the Algerian regime’s human rights record.
Announcing Fekhar’s death in a Facebook post on Tuesday, May 28, the dissident’s lawyer, Salah Dabouz, did not shy away from squarely pointing fingers at the country’s culture of “impunity” and politicized justice.
For Dabouz, the rapid and seemingly out of control circumstances that led to Fekhar’s “scheduled death” means the government, through its repressive security mechanism, is directly responsible for the tragedy.
Fekhar, who was detained at a prison facility in Ghardaia, 600 km south of Algiers, started a hunger strike days before news emerged of his death.
According to his lawyers, Fekhar was in dire need of medical assistance in his final days since his health was rapidly deteriorating due the “inhuman” detention conditions. But, he suggested in his Facebook post, inadequate medical care and the indifference of judges to his health condition meant the activist’s death was “planned.”
Dabouz asked: “Did authorities at the Ghardaia Justice Court intend to physically eliminate Dr Fekhar in the midst of the ongoing revolution so that his death goes unnoticed and escape public attention?”
Opposition to social discrimination
A former elected official of the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) and a prominent militant for the autonomy of the Mozabites, an Ibadi Berber group in the Ghardaia region in northern Saharan in Algeria, Fekhar had a troubled history with Algerian authorities. His fierce opposition to Algeria’s “repressive” and “discriminatory” policies against Mozabites made him a target for police arrests and long stays in prisons.
Fekhar was most recently arrested on 31 March for a particularly damning speech in which he accused Algiers of segregation and discrimination against certain groups.
But his most known clash with Algerian authorities happened in July 2015 in the aftermath of violent inter-community skirmishes in Ghardaia.
Fekhar, who by then had become one of the loudest and most respected voices of the fight for Mozabite autonomy, was suspected by Algiers of having ties to foreign rivals, mainly Morocco. Back then, he was arrested and charged with 15 indictments, including “incitement to hate and violence” and “disruption of public safety.” He spent a little over two years in detention before social pressure forced the government to release him.
The Algerian press has vociferously responded to the news of Fekhar’s death, with some of the country’s most prominent journalists unapologetically taking on the government’s “unfair” and “discriminatory” policies.
Like Fekhar’s lawyer, the country’s media personalities have pointed damning fingers at the Algeria’s politicized judiciary system as well as its police force.
Sid Ahmed Semiane, an Algerian journalist and documentary filmmaker, said he was “lost for words” after learning the news of Fekhar’s “sad” and “shocking” death. He added, “Kamel Eddine Fekhar died as a political prisoner. It is a shame, an abject crime.”
Journalist Otman Lahiani brought the indignation to another, higher level. For him, the dissident activist is the victim of Algeria’s police state, where holding views different than the authorities is perceived as a crime. At stake in post-revolution Algeria is the need to “arrest and prosecute those responsible” to ensure that what happened to Fekhar does not happen to others, he stressed.
For its part, the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH) lambasted the country’s political system for its “stubbornness” and “contempt” in targeting dissident voices.
The FFF, Fekhar’s political family, denounced the “arbitrary, inhumane, and unbearable” detention conditions that precipitated his death.
In a press release, the party “condemned the dictatorial tendency of our country’s decision makers” and demanded that other political prisoners “languishing… in [Algerian] death camps” be released immediately.
The shock of Fekhar’s death comes as Algeria continues to be entangled in a web of popular anger, an eruption of anti-government sentiment after years of ineffective political leadership. According to French outlet Le Point, students in Algiers demonstrated on Tuesday against the government and in solidarity with Fekhar.
Meanwhile, while popular indignation at Fekhar’s death is still fresh, Algeria stands accused of blatantly disregarding human rights during ongoing anti-government demonstrations.
After the recent death of Ramzi Yettou, a 22-year-old who died while protesting against the government, international advocacy groups like Amnesty have called on the Algerian government to be more accommodating of human rights.
Claiming that Yettou died as a result of head injuries sustained after members of riot police violently hit him, the international advocacy group has demanded that an “in-depth investigation” be opened to shed light on the death of the young protester.