Algeria: independent unions targeted in government drive to destroy the democracy movement

20.01.20 Feature
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Algeria's electoral farce of December 12, in which citizens were asked to select one of five presidential candidates approved by the military, has done nothing to diminish the government crackdown on democratic civil society, including the independent trade unions. Algerians fighting for freedom of association now face a double dose of repression. They are targeted as trade unionists challenging the state-controlled union federation UGTA, and under attack for the role they have played in driving and sustaining the democracy movement which erupted last spring.

In May of last year, the ILO, following a high-level mission to Algeria, called on the government to take immediate steps to end the persecution of independent union leaders and members, register their organizations and reinstate all those dismissed for their trade union membership and activities. The response has been more of the same.

Raouf Mellal, president of the IUF-affiliates SNATEG as well as the confederation COSYFOP, continues to face new punitive charges, most recently a defamation lawsuit filed against him by the Minister of Labour in retaliation for complaints against the government at the ILO.

In December, the authorities sealed the headquarters of the IUF-affiliated SNAPAP in Algiers, which also serves as the headquarters of the national center CGATA. Union offices are under 24-hour police surveillance.

Kaddour Chouicha, president of the independent union of university lecturers SESS, member of the executive committee of CGATA and representative on the governing body of the ITUC, was arrested and immediately sentenced to one year's imprisonment on December 10 - International Human Rights Day - for criticizing the military and civil authorities. Provisionally released after one month, he was rearrested on January 14. Chouicha is vice president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights and president of its Oran section.

Ibrahim Daouadji, general secretary of the independent union confederation OSATA, was arrested on October 12 on similar charges and remains in prison. He was arrested together with his 3-year-old son, who was only released after lawyers intervened.

Rym Kadri, who coordinates the activities of the COSYFOP-affiliated education workers, was arrested on November 24 for her participation in a sit-in demanding the release of political prisoners. Released after 4 days, she remains subject to strict legal and police controls.

Hamza Kherroubi, president of the COSYFOP-affiliated union of nurses' assistants, was arrested on December for his support for the general strike called by COSYFOP beginning December 8, charged with 'incitement' and sentenced to a year in prison. Provisionally released due to his medical condition, he was placed in police detention on January 21.

Algerian rights defenders have documented the cases of hundreds of civic and political activists known to be in detention for having joined peaceful demonstrations or for criticizing the government on social media, including the young student activist Nour El Houda Oggadi, imprisoned since December 19. The actual figure is considerably higher. Virtually no information is allowed to escape from the south of the country, and freedom of movement is severely restricted everywhere. Farcical legal proceedings are carried out in absentia; those found guilty are often informed of the sentences only at the moment of arrest.

Trade union and democracy activists not yet behind bars or subject to strict police supervision are at imminent risk of being arrested and tortured as the authorities seek to destroy a movement of millions. Many-sided international support - from unions, human rights defenders, governments  -  is needed now, more than ever, to ensure the movement survives and succeeds. And transnational companies active in Algeria - and there are many - need to be called to order and reminded that they are invested in, and complicit with, a squalid authoritarian regime whose human rights violations multiply on a daily basis.