Algeria is a multiparty republic whose president, the head of state, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The president has the constitutional authority to appoint and dismiss cabinet members and the prime minister, who is the head of government. A 2016 constitutional revision requires the president to consult with the parliamentary majority before appointing the prime minister. Presidential elections took place in 2014, and voters re-elected President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fourth term. Presidential term limits, which were eliminated in 2008, were reintroduced in the 2016 revision of the constitution and limit the president to two five-year terms. Elections for the lower chamber of parliament were held in May 2017 and did not result in significant changes in the composition of the government. Foreign observers characterized the 2017 legislative elections as largely well organized and conducted without significant problems on election day, but noted a lack of transparency in vote-counting procedures.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces.
Human rights issues included unlawful interference with privacy; laws prohibiting certain forms of expression, which were often vague, as well as criminal defamation laws; limits on freedom of the press; restrictions on the freedom of assembly and association including of religious groups; official corruption, including perceptions of lack of judicial independence and impartiality; criminalization of consensual same sex sexual conduct and security force sexual abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and trafficking in persons.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or punish public officials who committed violations. Impunity for police and security officials remained a problem, but the government provided information on actions taken against officials accused of wrongdoing.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Some terrorist groups remained active in the country, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and an ISIS affiliate, Jund al-Khilafah. These groups targeted security services personnel in periodic but small-scale attacks. Notably, terrorists killed seven soldiers in an ambush on July 30 in Skikda.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits torture and prescribes prison sentences of between 10 and 20 years for government agents found guilty of torture. According to the Ministry of Justice, there were six prosecutions of law enforcement officers for torture during the year. Human rights activists said police sometimes used excessive force against suspects, including protestors.
The General Directorate of National Security (DGSN) stated that it received 131 complaints of violence or threats by officers and conducted 163 investigations into those threats. As a result, officials suspended six individuals.
Local and international NGOs asserted that police impunity was a problem. Local human rights activists reported that prisoners feared reprisals if they reported abuse by authorities during detention or the interrogation process.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
The penal code prohibits the detention of suspects in any facilities not designated for that purpose and declared to the local prosecutor, who has the right to visit such facilities at any time.
Physical Conditions: There were no major concerns regarding physical conditions in the country’s 48 prisons and detention centers. According to statistics provided in September, the Ministry of Justice’s General Directorate for Prison Administration and Resettlement (DGAPR) had responsibility for approximately 63,000 prisoners. Convicted terrorists had the same rights as other inmates but were held in prisons of varying degrees of security, determined by the danger posed by the prisoners. The DGAPR separates vulnerable persons but provides no consideration for sexual orientation. The DGAPR has no legal protections for LGBTI persons in prison arguing that civil protections extend to all people regardless of gender orientation.
The government used specific facilities for prisoners age 27 and younger. The DGAPR maintained different categories of prisons that separated prisoners according to the lengths of their sentences. The government acknowledged that some detention facilities were overcrowded but said it used alternatives to incarceration such as releasing prisoners with electronic bracelets, conditional release, and replacing prison terms with mandatory community service to reduce overcrowding. The Ministry of Justice said cell sizes exceeded international standards set by the United Nations’ Nelson Mandela Rules. Some observers, including government-appointed human rights officials, attributed overcrowding in pretrial detention facilities to continued overuse of pretrial detention, despite reforms in 2015 that sought to reduce the practice.
Authorities generally transferred pretrial detainees, after presenting them before the prosecutor, to prisons rather than holding them in separate detention facilities. The government said pretrial detainees were normally held in cellblocks separate from those that housed the general prison population.
Administration: Authorities conducted investigations into allegations of mistreatment and took administrative actions against officers it deemed to have committed abuses. Religious workers reported that they had access to prisoners during the year and authorities allowed detainees access to religious observance.
Independent Monitoring: The government allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local human rights observers to visit prisons and detention centers. ICRC staff visited prisons, and police and gendarme stations under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice, and an administrative detention center operated by the Ministry of Interior. During the year the ICRC hosted training sessions on human rights standards related to arrest, detention, and interrogation procedures for judicial police from the DGSN and National Gendarmerie, as well as for judges.
Improvements: Authorities improved prison conditions to meet international standards. The government said that it closed 11 facilities and opened one new facility to improve prison conditions in the last year but argued that they have alleviated overcrowding by increasing the use of minimum-security centers that permit prisoners to work and by using electronic monitoring. The DGSN’s human rights office, created in July 2017, reported that it was leading seminars and workshops with the National Human Rights Council to provide additional human rights training to its officers.
Security forces routinely detained individuals who participated in unauthorized protests. Arrested individuals reported that authorities held them for four to eight hours before releasing them without charges. Overuse of pretrial detention remained a problem. A detainee has the right to appeal a court’s order of pretrial detention, and if released, seek compensation from the government.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The 130,000-member National Gendarmerie, which performs police functions outside of urban areas under the auspices of the Ministry of National Defense, and the approximately 218,000-member DGSN or national police, organized under the Ministry of Interior, share responsibility for maintaining law and order. Intelligence activities fall under three intelligence directorates reporting to a presidential national security counselor and performing functions related specifically to internal, external, and technical security.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. The government has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuses, but the government did not always provide public information on disciplinary or legal action against police, military, or other security force personnel. The government suspended six of 100 investigated security officers for abuse. During the year the DGSN conducted nine training sessions on human rights, including for all new cadets.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
According to the law, police must obtain a summons from the prosecutor’s office to require a suspect to appear in a police station for preliminary questioning. With this summons, police may hold a suspect for no more than 48 hours. Authorities also use summonses to notify and require the accused and the victim to attend a court proceeding or hearing. Police may make arrests without a warrant if they witness the offense. Lawyers reported that authorities usually carried out procedures for warrants and summonses properly.
If authorities need more than 48 hours to gather additional evidence, they may extend a suspect’s authorized time in police detention with the prosecutor’s authorization in the following cases: if charges pertain to an attack on data processing systems, they may extend the time in detention once; if charges relate to state security, they may do so twice; for charges concerning drug trafficking, organized and transnational crime, money laundering, and other currency-related crimes, they may do so three times; and for charges related to terrorism and other subversive activities, they may do so five times for a maximum of 12 days. The law stipulates that detainees should immediately be able to contact a family member and receive a visit, or to contact an attorney.
The law provides detainees the right to see an attorney for 30 minutes if the time in detention has been extended beyond the initial 48-hour period. In these cases, authorities permit the arrested person to contact a lawyer after half of the extended time has expired. Prosecutors may apply to a judge to extend the period before arrested individuals can have access to an attorney. The court appearance of suspects in terrorism cases is public. At the end of the period of detention, the detainee has the right to request a medical examination by a physician of choice within the jurisdiction of the court. Otherwise, the judicial police appoint a doctor. Authorities enter the medical certificate into the detainee’s file.
In nonfelony cases and in cases of individuals held on charges of terrorism and other subversive activities that exceed a 12-day period plus any authorized extension, the law calls for the release of suspects on provisional liberty, referred to as “judicial control,” while awaiting trial. Under provisional liberty status, authorities subjected suspects to requirements such as reporting periodically to the police station in their district, stopping professional activities related to the alleged offense committed, surrendering all travel documents, and, in some terrorism-related cases, residing at an agreed-upon address. The law provides that foreigners may be required to furnish bail as a condition of release on provisional liberty status, while Algerian citizens may be released on provisional liberty without posting bail.
Judges rarely refused requests to extend pretrial detention, which by law may be appealed. Should the detention be overturned, the defendant has the right to request compensation. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. There were reports that authorities held some detainees without access to their lawyers and reportedly abused them physically and mentally.
Arbitrary Arrest: Although the law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, authorities sometimes used vaguely worded provisions, such as “inciting an unarmed gathering” and “insulting a government body,” to arrest and detain individuals considered to be disturbing public order or criticizing the government. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations criticized the law prohibiting unauthorized gatherings and called for its amendment to require only notification as opposed to application for authorization. These observers, among others, pointed to the law as a significant source of arbitrary arrests intended to suppress political activism. Police arrested protesters throughout the year for violating the law against unregistered public gatherings.
On August 12, about 30 members of the Mouwatana movement held a sit-in in Algiers to denounce the fifth term of President Bouteflika. Police arrested and interrogated some of the demonstrators and released them after about an hour. Some of those arrested, reported being “brutalized.” On September 8, several leaders were prevented from marching in Constantine. Several members were arrested on September 13 in Bejaia, including the leader of political party Jil Jadid, Soufiane Djilali.
Pretrial Detention: Prolonged pretrial detention remained a problem. Nongovernmental observers believed pretrial detainees comprised a significant portion of the total detainee and prisoner population but did not have specific statistics. According to the Ministry of Justice, approximately 12 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention.
The law limits the grounds for pretrial detention and stipulates that before it can be imposed, a judge must assess the gravity of a crime and whether the accused is a threat to society or a flight risk. Judges rarely refused prosecutorial requests to extend pretrial detention. Most detainees had prompt access to a lawyer of their choice as accorded by law, and the government provided legal counsel to indigent detainees. Human rights activists and attorneys, however, asserted that some detainees were held without access to lawyers.
The law prohibits pretrial detention for crimes with maximum punishments of less than three years imprisonment, except for infractions that resulted in deaths or to persons considered a “threat to public order.” In these cases, the law limits pretrial detention to one month. In all other criminal cases, pretrial detention may not exceed four months. Amnesty International alleged that authorities sometimes detained individuals on security-related charges for longer than the 12-day prescribed period.
Authorities have been holding journalist, Said Chitour, in pretrial detention since June 2017 without trial. He was charged with “sharing intelligence with a foreign power.”
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The Code of Criminal Procedure grants the right to appeal a court’s order of pretrial detention. The appeal must be filed within three days of the order. A person released from custody following a dismissal or acquittal may apply to a civil commission to seek compensation from the government for “particular and particularly severe” harm caused by pretrial detention. The person must submit an application for compensation within six months of the dismissal or acquittal. Judges found to have ordered an unlawful detention could be subject to penalties or prosecution.
While the constitution provides for the separation of powers between the executive and judicial branches of government, the executive branch’s broad statutory authorities limited judicial independence. The constitution grants the president authority to appoint all prosecutors and judges. These presidential appointments are not subject to legislative oversight but are reviewed by the High Judicial Council, which consists of the president, minister of justice, chief prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 10 judges, and six individuals outside the judiciary chosen by the president. The president serves as the president of the High Judicial Council, which is responsible for the appointment, transfer, promotion, and discipline of judges. The judiciary was not impartial and was perceived by some observers to be subject to influence and corruption.
On July 13, the Ministry of Justice removed a public prosecutor and his deputy from a court in Boudouaou for their alleged involvement in the legal proceedings following the discovery of 701 kilograms of cocaine in the port of Oran on May 29.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair trial, but authorities did not always respect legal provisions that protect defendants’ rights. The law presumes defendants are innocent and have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney provided at public expense if necessary. Most trials are public, except when the judge determines the proceedings to be a threat to public order or “morals.” The penal code guarantees defendants the right to free interpretation as necessary. Defendants have the right to be present during their trial but may be tried in absentia if they do not respond to a summons ordering their appearance.
In July 2017 authorities freed Kamel Eddine Fekhar, a human rights activist. After violent clashes between Ibadis in Ghardaia and security forces, Fekhar wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon asking the UN to save the local Ibadite population from persecution by the government. Authorities arrested Fekhar in 2015 and held him for 22 months without a trial. In May 2017 Fekhar was sentenced to five years imprisonment but in July 2017 a court in Medea reduced that sentence to two years. Fekhar was released shortly thereafter, two years after his initial arrest.
Defendants may confront or question witnesses against them and present witnesses and evidence on their behalf. Defendants have the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt, and they have the right to appeal. The testimony of men and women has equal weight under the law.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
International and local observers alleged that authorities occasionally used antiterrorism laws and restrictive laws on freedom of expression and public assembly to detain political activists and outspoken critics of the government.
Intelligence services arrested journalist Said Chitour in June 2017 and accused him of sharing intelligence with a foreign power. Chitour has been detained in El Harrach prison since then without trial and faces life imprisonment if convicted. According to his lawyers, authorities have not provided any evidence to support the charges. Several human rights NGOs condemned his arrest as an example of harassment and threats to pressure journalists.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The judiciary was not always independent or impartial in civil matters and lacked independence in some human rights cases. Family connections and status of the parties involved influenced decisions. Individuals may bring lawsuits, and administrative processes related to amnesty may provide damages to the victims or their families for human rights violations and compensation for alleged wrongs. Individuals may appeal adverse decisions to international human rights bodies, but their decisions would not have the force of law.
The constitution provides for the protection of a person’s “honor” and private life, including the privacy of home, communication, and correspondence. According to human rights activists, citizens widely believed the government conducted frequent electronic surveillance of a range of citizens, including political opponents, journalists, human rights groups, and suspected terrorists. Security officials reportedly searched homes without a warrant. Security forces conducted unannounced home visits.
In 2016 the government established an anticybercrime agency charged with coordinating anticybercrime efforts and engaging in preventive surveillance of electronic communications in the interests of national security. Falling under the purview of the Ministry of Justice, the agency has exclusive authority for monitoring all electronic surveillance activities, but the decree did not provide details regarding the limits of surveillance authority or corresponding protections for persons subject to surveillance. The Ministry of Justice said the agency was subject to all existing judicial controls that apply to law enforcement agencies.