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.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were numerous reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings of criminal suspects. Most killings occurred during security force operations to stem cattle rustling by armed criminal groups in the central, west, and southwest areas as well as during police raids to combat insecurity in urban areas. Villagers sometimes supported government efforts to stem cattle rustling and were responsible for killing cattle rustlers.
In January the National Gendarmerie told the press that in its efforts to combat insecurity, gendarmes had killed 217 presumed thieves in 2017, compared to 220 the year before. Between January and September, media reported 292 deaths from security force actions to combat insecurity, but this number included members of the security forces and civilians as well as presumed thieves According to media, clashes between alleged cattle thieves and the security forces occurred at least monthly. Usually the security forces were composed of police and gendarmes, but occasionally they included military elements. There were isolated reports of security forces executing cattle thieves or bandits after capture. These could not be substantiated and were rarely, if ever, investigated.
In July bandits kidnapped four employees of a then state owned chromite mining company 115 miles north of Antananarivo. After their ransom was paid and they were released, gendarmes deployed to the area, and in mid-August a gendarme was killed in a shootout. Subsequently an army platoon consisting of 30 soldiers reportedly arrested a number of persons the locals identified as suspected bandits, removed their clothing and applied hot, melted plastic to their bodies. At least five were summarily executed, according to a villager’s report to a media outlet.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law provide for the inviolability of the person and prohibit such practices, but security forces subjected prisoners and criminal suspects to physical and mental abuse, including torture, according to media reports.
Security personnel used beatings as punishment for alleged crimes or as a means of coercion. Off-duty and sometimes intoxicated members of the armed forces assaulted civilians. In most cases, investigations announced by security officials did not result in prosecutions.
Media outlets reported on August 25 that police took two presumed thieves to Antananarivo’s main public hospital August 23. One of the suspects was dead upon arrival at the hospital and the second one was very weak and died the next day. Both presented injuries including bruises, suggesting they had been the victims of battery. The suspects had been arrested the previous day for alleged involvement in an armed attack in Ankadindramamy that resulted in the death of a police officer.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to inadequate food, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and insufficient medical care.
Physical Conditions: Severe overcrowding due to weaknesses in the judicial system and inadequate prison infrastructure was a serious problem. One penitentiary surpassed its official capacity by nearly eightfold. As of August the country’s 84 prisons and detention centers held an estimated 24,590 inmates, of whom 1,729 were female and 22,861 male. The total number of inmates included 785 minors. This figure represented well over twice the official capacity of 10,360 inmates.
Lengthy pretrial detention was pervasive, contributing significantly to overcrowding. On April 25, the National Human Rights Commission (CNIDH) noted that two-thirds of detainees in the country were in pretrial detention, resulting in as many as 180 detainees sleeping in one room. The largest rooms were dormitory-style rooms designed to hold many detainees. Authorities sometimes held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners.
Authorities did not always hold juveniles separately from adults, and some children under school age shared cells with their incarcerated mothers. According to the Ministry of Justice, 53 percent of the 43 prisons holding juvenile detainees had separate areas for minors.
During the second quarter of 2017, Grandir Dignement (Grow Up with Dignity), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) dedicated to the rights of imprisoned youth, identified 828 minors held in the country’s 41 prisons, 39 jails, and two juvenile detention centers. The NGO estimated that 20 percent of the minor prisoners were collocated with adult prisoners during the day, and 5 percent shared dormitories with adults. Girls were always held together with adult female prisoners.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), almost one in two prisoners nationwide suffered from moderate or severe malnutrition. Each inmate received approximately 10.5 ounces of cassava per day, compared with the recommended 26 ounces. The ICRC, in collaboration with the Catholic Chaplaincy for Prisons, treated almost 7,500 prisoners in 14 detention centers for malnutrition during the year, in addition to approximately 2,000 sick prisoners and breastfeeding women.
A deteriorating prison infrastructure that often lacked sanitation facilities and potable water resulted in disease and insect and rodent infestations, although prison officials carried out extermination efforts against insects and rats, minor renovations, and small construction projects with financial support from the ICRC. Access to medical care was limited. Ventilation, lighting, and temperature control were inadequate or nonexistent in many of the smaller facilities hosting fewer than 300 inmates; larger facilities were renovated during the year to address these issues.
The Ministry of Justice recorded 129 deaths in prisons in 2017, none of which were attributed to actions by guards or other staff. The most frequent causes of death were tuberculosis, high blood pressure, and gastrointestinal issues.
Fifteen prisoners tried to escape Antalaha Prison in the northern Sava Region on July 15. During the confrontation between the prisoners and penitentiary agents, two prisoners died and one was seriously injured.
Administration: While a formal process exists to submit complaints to judicial authorities, few detainees used it due to fear of reprisal. Officials authorized weekly visits from relatives and permitted religious observance. Visits outside scheduled days were reportedly possible by bribing guards and penitentiary agents. NGOs reported bribes could purchase small privileges, such as allowing family members to bring food for prisoners.
Independent Monitoring: Authorities generally permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the ICRC, several local NGOs, and some diplomatic missions. Authorities permitted the ICRC to conduct visits to all main penitentiary facilities and to hold private consultations in accordance with its standard modalities. Authorities also permitted ICRC representatives to visit detainees in pretrial or temporary detention.
Improvements: As of October, 22 of the country’s 41 prisons had established separate areas for boys and men, an increase from 2014 when only 17 prisons had such areas.
Humanity and Inclusion (HI), an NGO that collaborated with the Ministry of Justice penitentiary administration, completed a project called “Prison for a Better Future: From Detention to Reinsertion.” The project addressed the mental well-being of detainees in five detention centers. The project also promoted protection of detainees’ human rights and developed a method for psychosocial support for penitentiary agents, civil society organizations, local communities, and detainees.
Some regional directorates of the penitentiary administration undertook independent initiatives to improve detainees’ well-being. The Antalaha directorate, for example, established agreements with local farmers by which the prisons provided workers from among detainees to farmers, who then allocated part of their harvest to the prison food supply. During the year the administration concluded five such agreements that brought approximately 60 tons of dried foodstuffs including rice, corn, and cassava, to the prisons.
The government allocated an additional two billion ariary ($560,000) to the Ministry of Justice during the year to increase the pace of hearings and conduct a pilot project to improve detainees’ diet. In the pilot project, detainees in two prisons (Toliara and Miarinarivo) benefitted from a new diet providing three kinds of food to detainees and two meals per day, and the ministry stated its intent to expand this to the remaining prisons. The 2019 budget, approved in November, doubled the amount allocated to the penitentiary administration compared with the reporting year.
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but authorities did not always respect these provisions. Authorities arrested persons on vague charges and detained many suspects for long periods without trial. According to international media reports, women are routinely arrested for crimes their male relatives are accused of, allegedly because they should have known and are thus considered an accomplice.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The national police, under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security, are responsible for maintaining law and order in urban areas. The gendarmerie, under the Ministry of National Defense, is responsible for maintaining law and order in rural areas. Since 2015 the military has remained active in rural areas, particularly to maintain order in areas affected by cattle rustling and banditry.
The government did not always exercise law enforcement effectively outside the capital. Security forces at times failed to prevent or respond to societal violence, particularly in rural areas.
Government institutions lacked any effective means to monitor, inspect, or investigate alleged abuse by security forces, and impunity was a problem. Victims may lodge complaints in the local court of jurisdiction, although this rarely occurred.
The law gives traditional village institutions authority to protect property and public order. In some rural areas, a community-organized judicial system known as dina resolved civil disputes between villagers over such issues as alleged cattle rustling. Dina procedures sometimes conflicted with national laws by imposing harsh sentences without due process or by failing to protect the rights of victims. For example, the dina system of the Toliara region, adopted in 2016, states that prosecution for wrongful death is unnecessary in cases where a presumed criminal is killed during a robbery. Other dina systems prescribe capital punishment, although it has been abolished at the national level. For example, a newspaper reported on April 28 that the town of Tolongoina in the region of Vatovavy Fitovinany had set up a local dina to crack down on the frequent cases of vanilla theft. The agreement provided for the decapitation of any thief caught red-handed stealing vanilla.
In May the national police published a booklet entitled “Serve and Protect,” developed with the support of the ICRC, that serves as a guide to police officials for protecting human rights.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires arrest warrants in all cases except those involving ‘hot pursuit’ (the apprehension of a suspect during or immediately after a crime is committed), but authorities often detained persons based on accusations only and without judicial authorization. The law requires authorities to charge or release criminal suspects within 48 hours of arrest, but they often held individuals for significantly longer periods before charging or releasing them. Defendants have a right to counsel, and the law entitled those who could not afford a lawyer to one provided by the state. Many citizens were unaware of this right, and few requested attorneys. Defendants have the right to know the charges against them, but authorities did not always respect this right. Authorities frequently denied bail without justification. Magistrates often resorted to a mandat de depot (retaining writ) under which defendants were held in detention for the entire pretrial period. The law limits the duration of pretrial detention and regulates the use of the writ, with a theoretical maximum of eight months for criminal cases. Family members generally had access to prisoners, although authorities limited access for prisoners in solitary confinement or those arrested for political reasons.
Arbitrary Arrest: Security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists, political opponents of the government, demonstrators, and other civilians.
In August the CNIDH reported gendarmes arrested seven persons in the Sava Region for contesting their eviction from their village in Moratsiazo, where they had lived for five years. The court imprisoned the men in Antalaha; two young children and their mother were held in the Sambava police station.
Pretrial Detention: In April the CNIDH noted that two-thirds of detainees in the country were in pretrial detention. According to the Ministry of Justice, as of August 58 percent of the prison population (14,222 of 24,590 inmates) was in pretrial detention. Pretrial detention ranged from several days to several years. Poor recordkeeping, an outdated judicial system, insufficient magistrates, insufficient courts of first instance and lack of resources contributed to the problem. The length of pretrial detention often exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime.
On March 1, the NGO Action des Chretiens pour l’Abolition de la Torture (Action by Christians to Abolish Torture) developed and published a manual to help law enforcement agents reduce the rate of pretrial detention with the aim of decreasing prison overcrowding and improving respect for the rights of prisoners.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for the defendant’s right to file an appeal concerning his or her pretrial detention with no specific provision concerning his or her right to prompt release and compensation. The law states that a defendant must be released immediately if a prosecutor approves a temporary release requested by the defendant.
Although the constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was susceptible to executive influence at all levels, and corruption remained a serious problem. There were instances in which the outcome of trials appeared predetermined, and authorities did not always enforce court orders. Lack of training, resources, and personnel hampered judicial effectiveness, and case backlogs were “prodigious,” according to Freedom House. Judges reported instructions from the executive to release accused sex offenders who were often, but not always, foreign citizens from donor countries.
The law reserves military courts for trials of military personnel, and they generally follow the procedures of the civil judicial system, except that military jury members must be officers. Defendants in military cases have access to an appeals process and generally benefit from the same rights available to civilians, although their trials are not public. A civilian magistrate, usually joined by a panel of military officers, presides over military trials.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the courts have the authority to direct that a trial be closed to protect the victim or to maintain public order. Trials were often delayed. Prolonged incarceration without charge, denial of bail, and postponed hearings were common. The law provides for a presumption of innocence, but authorities often ignored this right. Defendants have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, and the law provides free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals.
Defendants have the right to legal counsel at every stage of proceedings. Many citizens were unaware of their right to counsel, however, and authorities did not systematically inform them of it. Defendants who did not request or could not afford counsel generally received very limited time to prepare their cases. Defendants have the right to be present at their trials, to present and confront witnesses, and to present evidence. Authorities generally respected such rights if defendants had legal representation. The law provides the right to an interpreter for the judicial police, examining magistrate, and the defendant’s legal advisor but does not mention any such right for the defendant, nor whether it is a free service. The law stipulates that the defendant has the right to refuse an interpreter. In practice, if an external interpreter must be hired, it is at the defendant’s expense. Legislation outlining defendants’ rights does not specifically refer to the right not to be compelled to testify or not to confess guilt. It does include the right to assistance by another person during the investigation and trial. Defendants have the right to appeal convictions.
By law, the above rights apply to all defendants, and there were no reports that any groups were denied these rights.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Alain Ramaroson remained in jail at years end. The leader of an opposition party, Ramaroson was arrested in August 2016 and accused of forgery in a land dispute with one of his family members. After several refusals of his attorneys’ requests for temporary release and after several postponements, a first trial was held in July 2017, and he was sentenced to one year in prison and a 900 million ariary ($252,000) fine. In August 2017 the court rendered a judgement related to another charge and sentenced him to 30 months in prison and a 200 million ariary fine ($56,000). The media reported that persons seeking to visit him were required to obtain prior approval from the ministry.
There were no reports of any other cases of politically motivated arrests or detentions.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The judiciary deals with all civil matters, including human rights cases, and individuals or organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Courts lacked independence, were subject to influence, and often encountered difficulty in enforcing civil judgments. There is no prohibition against appealing to regional human rights bodies, but there was no known case of an appeal. The legal system does not recognize the jurisdiction of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
During the year, media reported several similar cases of forced evictions of entire communities in various parts of the country, supported by security forces, to the benefit of foreign investors. There were no reports that the evicted persons in any of these cases received any restitution.
There was no report of government action to seize private properties for public use during the year.
The law prohibits such actions, but there were a few reports the government failed to respect these provisions.
On May 20, for example, five soldiers belonging to a unit from Antsirabe seized 15 zebu cattle from a courtyard and burned a house in the district of Manandriana, Amoron’i Mania. The soldiers had allegedly received an anonymous tip that the resident was a cattle rustler and had gone to the village to arrest him. When they found no one in the suspect’s presumed house, they burned it and seized the zebus.